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Taobao clarifies virtual rights

By Fang Yunyu (Global Times)

08:52, March 18, 2013 told the Global Times Sunday that it has a plan in place to allow the heirs of deceased shop owners, as well as shop owners' divorced spouses, to continue operating their online businesses from April, a step forward in clarifying virtual property ownership in China.

"Taobao will unlock shops to their owners' spouses and heirs only after applicants provide required evidence, such as divorce certificates and legal documentation of the division of property, or death certificates and documents partitioning the deceased's estate," according to an announcement Taobao e-mailed to the Global Times Sunday.

People who need to transfer ownership should be preparing their documents, as the online application channel will launch next month, said Taobao, China's largest online platform for independent retailers.

The new move will replace previous regulations that say a Taobao shop's ownership cannot be traded, rented or given away. "We decided to allow shops to change hands under the circumstances of divorce and death because there are increasing needs for such services," Zhang Lingxiao, a Taobao public relations manager, told the Global Times Sunday.

Last year, the deaths of two Taobao shop owners set off a flurry of discussion about how online shops could be transferred, because Taobao insisted on court judgments before unlocking the shops to relatives of the deceased.

Some Chinese couples run Taobao shops together, but since they only need one identity card number to open a shop, divorce can create tough ownership questions. It was previously reported that even couples who had reached agreements about shop ownership had to seek trial to obtain the judgment needed to apply for ownership change.

Lü Yan, an employee in Taobao's seller management department, said in February that Taobao shop owners put a lot of effort into their reputations, and consumers rely on them, which is why the firm previously forbade ownership transfer.

"I've been working very hard to build up a good reputation for my shop. If I die, I hope my family can continue running it," said Xiao Yuan, a Taobao clothing shop owner based in East China's Zhejiang Province, noting that it would be much too complicated to go to court to change ownership, so she welcomed Taobao's decision to provide an online application process.

With China's online shopping industry booming, Taobao shops with good ratings for customer satisfaction have increasing virtual value.

"The right to inherit or transfer virtual property is still murky in current Chinese laws, but Taobao's new rule follows a market trend, as virtual property has value, and simply locking businesses when owners die is a waste for the online industry," Liu Wenmei, a lawyer with the Guangzhou-based Team Source Law Firm, told the Global Times Sunday.

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