BEIJING: China has never been regarded as a beacon of rectitude in the field of intellectual property protection but the head of a leading internet company has called for better enforcement of existing laws.

"I can't overstate the importance of rule of law," said Pony Ma Huateng, chief executive of Tencent, in remarks reported by the South China Morning Post.

"I have said on different occasions that many of the questions boil down to lax law enforcement," he added.

And while Tencent had taken legal action and won damages in the past, he observed that "it doesn't amount to much of a deterrent", as the penalties imposed were dwarfed by the profits pirates made elsewhere.

"They know very well it's against the law, but since the risk isn't huge they would still do it," he said. "That's why I think punishment isn't stringent enough, and we hope law enforcement could become more rigorous, and punishment heavier."

The Post noted that Ma's own early career was regarded as having been based on "knockoffs of successful products at the time".

It further observed that Ma's current interest in the tightening of IP laws followed his investment in film, TV and music content, including a deal last November with HBO, the US cable network, to distribute its TV shows and films.

At the time that was welcomed by HBO as "a nice counter to the piracy that is going on inside the country".

More recently Tencent has also concluded a new extended tie-up with the US's National Basketball Association.

The Chinese government introduced a revised trademark law last May, when officials were also seen to crack down on pirated video.

But You Yunting, an intellectual property lawyer in Shanghai, told the Post that the authorities were concerned not to overdo such actions for fear they could affect economic growth.

"Copycatting is very common in China mainly because the authorities aren't determined enough to tackle the issue, and court penalties are generally far too lenient, so the deterrent effect isn't there," he said.

Ma also pushed for better use of mobile internet in public facilities, environmental protection, and giving the elderly and the disabled equal access to the internet.

Data sourced from South China Morning Post; additional content by Warc staff