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E-commerce billionaire Jack Ma wants China to throw counterfeiters in jail

Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma.
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Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma.

Alibaba founder billionaire Jack Ma wants China to crack down on counterfeiters — even throwing them in jail.

Ma's appeal seeks harsher laws to fight fake goods, and comes as China's annual parliamentary meetings take place in Beijing.

"The majority of counterfeiters are not held legally responsible for their actions," wrote Ma in a statement to China's parliamentary delegates.

"If the penalty for even one fake product manufactured or sold was a seven-day prison sentence, the world would look very different both in terms of intellectual property enforcement and food and drug safety, as well as our ability to foster innovation."

Alibaba has long come under fire for failing to keep copy cats off its popular online shopping sites. Ma himself has called counterfeits a "cancer" to his company, and consistently emphasizes Alibaba's efforts to clean up fakes by taking down listings and banning sellers.

But last December, Alibaba landed back on the U.S. "notorious markets" list — a global name-and-shame of worst offenders dealing in counterfeits.

"Current levels of reported counterfeiting and piracy are unacceptably high" on Taobao, an Alibaba e-commerce platform, said the U.S. government, citing an example of a major U.S. motor vehicle manufacturer that suspected at least 95% of merchandise purporting to bear its brand were fake.

Still, counterfeits remain an uphill battle for the firm. Kering, a luxury brands group that includes Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, has before sued the company. Yet another kerfuffle occurred last year when the influential International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition allowed Alibaba to join its ranks, angering a number of its existing members.

Ma's recent comments have deflected responsibility – just a few weeks ago, he said Alibaba was "itself a victim of counterfeiting." He's now gone further to stress that China's laws are far too lax, and that counterfeiters must be punished.

"There is a lot of bark around stopping counterfeits, but no bite," Ma said this week.

On Wednesday, Alibaba released a statement saying it was "suing a Taobao merchant suspected of selling counterfeit Mars pet food for RMB 2.67 million yuan for violation of contract and goodwill."

Alibaba said it was asking the court "to compel the defendant to publish a written apology in several prominent print and web publications for a week."

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