Visual China Group, the company who acquired 500px a little over a year ago, has been criticized online after appearing to license and claim copyright to the first-ever black hole picture that’s been circulating the internet over the past week.
The black hole photo was released on April 10th by the European Southern Observatory. It was released for free distribution via the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Shortly afterwards, VCG, known as the “Getty Images of China,” listed the image as being available for sale in its library. No mention was made of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration (EHT), the very radio telescopes responsible for captured the image. What’s more, the VCG logo had been splashed across it.
As per TechCrunch, a note for the black hole image on VCG’s website is alleged to have read: “This is an editorial image. Please call 400-818-2525 or consult our customer service representative for commercial use.”
Screenshots of a conversation with VCG also reveal a representative stating “Yes” when asked whether the picture belongs to VCG, and claiming the image needs to be licensed before it can be used.
This seems to be a recurring theme for the company who, further investigation reveals, have been claiming to own copyright on a number of well-known company logos. Posted on their site was the Chinese national emblem and national flag, which is illegal to license in China.
As the controversy grew, it attracted the attention of Chinese authorities, with the company being ordered to put an end to its “illegal, rule-breaking practices.” VCG subsequently removed all the images in question. Their website VCG.com is also offline, while their stock dropped 10% on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.
An open letter later followed, explaining the incident was down to a “lack of oversight”, and placing blame on its contracted contributors who are the ones alleged to have uploaded the images in question.
Has VCG learned its lesson?