Consumer

Tim Culpan is a technology columnist for Bloomberg Gadfly. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

When Jack Ma takes the stage at an anti-piracy summit in Florida next month, he may be tempted to mention a new biography by Duncan Clark that charts how he built Alibaba into the world's largest online retailer.

If China's second-richest man feels particularly generous and chooses to gift an e-book copy of ``Alibaba: The House that Jack Built" from Amazon.com to each of the 500 delegates expected at the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition spring conference, he'll be out around $7,495. 

But as Tech in Asia points out, Ma could order from his own Taobao online store, where such generosity would set him back a mere $307, thanks to the marketplace's resident pirates. Shop around on the Alibaba-run site and another friendly pirate could trim that to 43 cents a copy, compared with the $14.99 Kindle edition.

Today, Alibaba boasts 400 million Chinese consumers turning to its websites for everything from books to Burberry. That heft has helped it weather a slowing domestic economy on the way to 32 percent revenue growth for the fourth quarter. It's also helped build Jack Ma's worth to around $29 billion.

Alibaba Sells
Its 400 million Chinese consumers have driven continued growth
Source: Bloomberg

Three years ago, just as Ma was preparing Alibaba for a U.S. IPO, he described counterfeiting as ``a cancer we have to deal with." The company subsequently started working with the IACC on what the organization later called its MarketSafe program, set up specifically to target piracy on Alibaba sites.

``Through the program, the IACC and its participating members work to identify and take down infringing listings on Taobao and Tmall via an expedited removal procedure," the IACC says on its website.

Just two weeks ago, Alibaba announced it will formally join the IACC, becoming the first online retailer to join the likes of Apple, 21st Century Fox and Harley Davidson in the global lobby group.

``Every e-commerce company in the world will have a counterfeiting problem," the former Apple executive and Alibaba's current head of intellectual-property protection, Matthew Bassiur, told Bloomberg's Spencer Soper at the time. ``The question is, how devoted are they to solving it?"

Given that pirated copies of the Jack Ma biography have been posted on Taobao for at least five days -- with lots of media attention -- and the company's public pledge to remove pirated products, Alibaba's level of devotion to curing its own cancer seems pretty weak.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Paul Sillitoe at psillitoe@bloomberg.net