"The Getty of China" VCG Suspended Operation Due To Black Hole Image Scandal

"The Getty of China" Suspended Operation Due To Black Hole Image Scandal
Screenshot of black hole images on Visual China platform (Photo: Screenshot of black hole images on Visual China platform)
"The Getty of China" Suspended Operation Due To Black Hole Image Scandal
Screenshot of Weibo post. (Photo: Screenshot of Weibo post.)
"The Getty of China" Suspended Operation Due To Black Hole Image Scandal
Screenshot of Weibo post. (Photo: Screenshot of Weibo post)

On Wednesday, NASA once again attracted the worldwide attention by publishing an image that captured a black hole and its shadow for the first time. As the image immediately went viral on China's social media, a Beijing based photo and media agency Visual China Group(VCG) incited public anger as it watermarked the image for commercial using.

The company that drawn into the vortex of criticism is Visual China, currently the largest stock image and media footage provide in China and often dubbed as "The Getty of China".

The scandal started when some users found that the Black Hole image was included into Visual China's photo stock, and was claimed with copyright, which means if anyone use this image for commercial purpose without pay to Visual China, they may be redeemed of infringement.

The image's original copyright belongs to European Southern Observatory (ESO). ESO's website has a clear statement of the usage of images, videos, music and web texts Summary:

Unless specifically noted, the images, videos, and music distributed on the public ESO website, along with the texts of press releases, announcements, pictures of the week, blog posts and captions, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, and may on a non-exclusive basis be reproduced without fee provided the credit is clear and visible.

The event further ferment as Communist Youth League of China queried Visual China on weibo, the largest social media platform in the country, that why the images of China's National Flag and National Emblem also watermarked by Visual China.

"Do you also own the copyright of National Flag and National Emblem?" Asked the Youth League.

The League's Weibo account has more than 8 million followers, and the question raised attention and repost among large amount of users, and to people's surprise, most large companies find their logo or company photos were watermarked too without their notice, including Tencent, Baidu, Nanfu Battery,Phoenix New Media, Xiaomi, etc.

To companies' irritating, they never give Visual China license to sell their images. One user asked: "So I need to buy from you to use our founder's image?"

Visual China soon published a statement saying that the image of Black Hole belongs to Event Horizon Telescope, it received Non-exclusive authorization of editorial using of the image through its partner, but no for commercial using.

However, in the comment zone, a user posted a chatting record that Visual China's sale told a client that they need to pay for the Black Hole image to use it in a poster.

People's anger couldn't be calmed as more and more join to expose the company's misdeeds. A focus of accusation was that the company intentionally make money from suing others for photo infringement. Some users even accuse them of blackmail celebrities by threating of selling their photos with bad quality, which may damage celebrities' public image.

In the midnight, China's two State Media also make their sound on Weibo. Xinhua Net said:

"A company that claims to be known for copyright protection, even clearly priced the images of National flag and the National emblem and hurried to correct it until the public discovered it. Is it a negligence or a blind eye?"

People's Daily said: "The question is, do you really have the copyright? Does the platform have a clean copyright pool? Can the business model stand up to scrutiny? Avoiding copyright protection as a 'black hole' is as important as promoting copyright."

The manager of Visual China has been summoned by the local regulatory authorities, and its website was closed for a thorough rectification.

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