Alibaba’s Back On U.S. Government’s Counterfeiting Naughty List

Four years ago, e-commerce giant Alibaba managed to get one of its sites, Taobao, removed from the United States Trade Representative’s list of “notorious markets” around the world that are known for counterfeit or pirated products. Just as Alibaba is trying to be accepted as a respectable global brand, the USTR has put the site back on the list.

What is the Notorious Markets List? It’s a listing of marketplaces known for products that are “linked to significant infringement of American businesses’ intellectual property rights.” Marketplaces on the list range from real-life flea markets to sites where users anywhere in the world can download pirated videos, music, or software.

Taobao is a site that could be compared to eBay or the Amazon Marketplace: it’s a selling platform and doesn’t source or stock the alleged infringing merchandise itself. Amazon is fighting accusations of selling counterfeit products, sometimes shipping them from its own warehouses: monitoring everything that the site, the largest e-commerce site in China, sells is a daunting task.

However, parent company Alibaba has vowed to fight counterfeits on all of its sites. Yet according to the USTR report, U.S. companies trying to get infringing products taken down from the site do not find Taobao very cooperative. The enforcement and communication systems sound like they’re set up to keep complaints away.

In Taobao’s profile on the list [PDF], the agency shares U.S. companies’ experiences:

“Right holders report that initial attempts to report [intellectual property rights] infringement are refused inconsistently; denials of takedown requests contain little to no justification or guidance on how the right holder may amend its notification to get results; error messages stall or prevent use of IP complaint systems; pertinent communications to right holders are not translated from Chinese; and broken hyperlinks prevent direct communication between right holders and Taobao sellers.”

Alibaba counters that the change must be a political move of sorts, pointing to statements from President-Elect Donald Trump that are hostile to international trade and to trade with China.

“Unfortunately, the USTR’s decision leads us to question whether the USTR acted based on the actual facts or was influenced by the current political climate,” Alibaba Group President Michael Evans said in a statement after the new report was released, bragging about the growing number of infringing items taken down from its sites, the huge number of brands happy to partner with the site, and its robust anti-counterfeiting programs.

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