500px Owners Claim Copyright of Black Hole Photo, Remove Website Following Backlash

500px Owners Claim Copyright of Black Hole Photo, Remove Website Following Backlash

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?

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Paul Parkinson's picture

When VCG bought a photo agency I was a member of they stole all my images posted with them. No communication other than a a fairly basic fuck you we own this now comment.

When these shysters bought 500px I was alarmed and was on the look out for the dubious practices I knew was their stock in trade. It didn't take long and I closed and deleted my account with 500px. I wanted nothing to do with them.

This appalling rights grab of the EHTC image is another in a long line of issues from VCG who are nothing but a bunch of crooks. Avoid anything to do with them.

"and placing blame on its contracted contributors"

Which is how so many companies now weasel their way out of having to take responsibility.
You can be a crook, just make sure you have some hapless contractor, freelancer or other likely poorly-paid person to throw under the bus when you get exposed.

Simon Patterson's picture

Glad this can be and has been dealt with in China. Pity it can't in the USA when organisations such as Getty Images do the same. Maybe the US could learn a thing or two from China on this one. https://petapixel.com/2016/11/22/1-billion-getty-images-lawsuit-ends-not...

Spy Black's picture

"...VCG, known as the “Getty Images of China..."

That pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

Penny Fan's picture

This article did not tell the whole story.
VCG is well known as earning dirty money by black mailing and suing whoever uses image that was uploaded to their site, and claim they have copy right and never care to authenticate those uploaders.
They have created a software to help them search on internet to find matches, and send those people email forcing them to pay penalties and join their membership or they will do legal action, resulting they have in average 5 law cases per day and earned a shit load of money from those small companies/individuals whom cannot afford to fight against them.

Simon Patterson's picture

Sounds like great software. If only it was used for good and not evil!

Robert Nurse's picture

Ownership has its privileges. This is where we are folks. Theft and malfeasance are the rule and not the exception. I wonder who really owns all those IG photos.

"lack of oversight"
So, this oversight was a result of a lack of oversight?

Leigh Miller's picture

The moment I read of the impending acquisition I deleted every single image in my 500px account.

stir photos's picture

yuup... that must've been you directly behind me then cos, i was out at the moment also... haha

Ignacio Balbuena's picture

I remember when 500px was actually a nice alternative to flickr but from the moment of the acquisition from VCG, everything went to hell. Im not surprised for trying of own a public domain photo.

Fristen Lasten's picture

When I go to VCG's website I get a page with the following. The translation is: "The Vision China website is currently undergoing content rectification and upgrade maintenance, and we apologize for the inconvenience."

When I search for the line drawing image it comes up as owned by iStockPhoto.com - a Getty company lol!