Visual China Group, the "Getty Images of China" and owner of 500px, sparked a protest after it tried to claim the copyright of the first image of the black hole that became a worldwide sensation this week.
After the innovative black hole image was published by Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration (EHT) on April 10, it was soon available through VCG's leading archive photography service in China with the VCG watermark dotted. But the problem was that EHT had published the image for free distribution under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 international license.
"This is an editorial image. Call 400-818-2525 or consult our customer service representative for commercial use, "on the VCG page of the image shown, in accordance with TechCrunch.
Interested Chinese netizens also turned to social media to share a chat conversation with a VCG representative. When asked if the image belongs to VCG, the representative said: "Yes." And when asked if the image should be purchased for use in a poster, the representative replied that he really needs a license before he can use it.
But it turns out that this controversy over the image of the black hole was only the tip of the iceberg. With a little more excavation, it came to light that VCG claimed the copyright of everything from the logos of well-known companies to the national emblem and the national flag of China. The sale of images of the emblem and the flag are illegal in China.
As the controversy grew, it attracted the attention of the Chinese authorities, who issued an order for the company to end its "illegal and transgressed practices." VCG responded by removing all offensive images it could find and suspended operations – VCG.com is offline when writing this article.
As the company's stock fell 10% on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in response to the news on Monday, the company published an open letter in which it apologized for the scandal and explained all the mislabeled images that had sent the collaborators.
"We could not do our due diligence in the evaluation, which led to the appearance of substandard content," writes VCG. "We have removed all the photos that do not comply with the rules and have closed the site voluntarily for a renewal in accordance with the related laws."