The e-commerce billionaire and founder of China's online selling site Alibaba Jack Ma has come out with a tough message for counterfeiters, demanding that Chinese authorities crack down on fakes.
It's a gamble from the company's leader, which has long been dogged by criticism that it is not doing enough to combat knock-offs being sold on its site, and last year was once again put on the "notorious market" by the US Office of the Trade Representative (USTR).
But in an unusual move, Ma wrote in an open letter, published on his Twitter-like Weibo account this week, that counterfeiters should get the same legal penalties given out to drunk drivers, and in a potentially risky move, also appeared to hit out at Chinese authorities for not coming down hard enough on fakers.
"We need to fight counterfeits the same way we fight drunk driving," Ma wrote in his letter. "No one company can do it alone. The existing laws are lagging, failing to impose actual threats on the behavior of counterfeiters and leave far too much room for cheating."
He added in the letter, which was also directed at Chinese officials, that there was "a lot of bark around stopping counterfeits, but no bite. If, for example, we imposed a seven-day prison sentence for every fake product sold, 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."
This comes as Ma and his company try to uncouple itself from association with counterfeiters, telling the USTR that is has removed 380 million product listings and closed around 180,000 stores on its Taobao platform last year.
But Ma said outdated China laws, like ones dismissing criminal responsibility for manufacturers who produce goods worth less than 50,000 yuan ($7,200), make Alibaba's efforts to stop fakes futile.
He said that fewer than 10 per cent of the leads the company has provided to authorities led to a successful criminal prosecution.
This also comes in the same month that a new, updated report from the US IP Commission that found that China (including Hong Kong) accounts for a staggering 87 per cent of counterfeit goods seized coming into the US.