Taohua.com, a website that sells digital content inside Communist China, recently did something you don't see too often in China: It apologised for selling 50,000 pirated e-books, with a statement saying all 50,231 pirated units had been removed from the online offerings.
In a web dispatch from Shanghai, publishing executive Wuping Zhao - who graduated from the prestigious Columbia University Publishing Course in New York a year ago - noted that versions of most bestsellers in China are available online as pirated e-book editions, even via mainstream portals like Baidu.com and Sina.com. Add Taohua.com to the list.
According to a press release from Taohua before the trouble ensued, it was set up "to provide a digital products platform and interactive digital television shopping to meet the growing needs of Chinese consumers for convenient and high-quality shopping experiences".
It's also a subsidiary of the Alibaba group, and as such is eBay's current rival in China, according to Zhao.
Jack Ma, who founded Taohua, is famous for his way with words, among other things. Regarding the rivalry with eBay, he's been quoted as saying: "eBay may be a shark in the ocean, but I'm a crocodile in the Yangtze river. If we fight in the ocean, we lose, but if we fight in the river we win."
Seems offering 50,000 pirated e-books was part of the fight.
Actually, nobody had ever heard of Taohua's existence before this brouhaha brewed up in Ma's face - causing him to lose face, temporarily - and the piracy charges only became a problem after several bestselling authors and their publishers poked Ma for selling pirated content online.
According to sources, a few pirated e-books by Milan Kundera, Garcia Gabriel Marquez and other authors remain available at Taohua, too.