The website of Beijing-based photo and media agency, Visual China Group, continued to be temporarily shut down Saturday after the company came under fire for claiming copyright of the first ever image of a black hole released earlier this week.
The Visual China Group is the largest stock image and media footage provider in China supplying to leading media companies in the country. Cyber administrators in Tianjin have begun an investigation and ordered the shutting down of any violations, state media reports said.
Visual China Group was accused of falsely watermarking images including the first image of the black hole, China’s national flag and also the country’s national emblem. On the Sina Weibo microblogging site, the question “Have you been watermarked by the Visual China Group yet?” became a trending topic after several companies joined in on the discussion wondering why their logos were under copyright as well.
Following this incident, chairman of Chinese office developer SOHO China, Pan Shiyi, wrote on Weibo that in 2017, he had received a call from Visual China pointing out that the copyright of the photos of Wangjing SOHO had been infringed. He wrote that the building was built by his company and the photographer was invited by them, and Visual China did not get back to him after these clarifications were made.
China Daily reported that the picture of the black hole, unveiled Wednesday, was added to Visual China’s stock with a copyright claim, “meaning anyone using the image without paying Visual China would be infringing on the copyright”. Soon after, Visual China had claimed the image of the black hole belonged to the European Southern Observatory and it had received authorisation for use. However, the Observatory said Visual China never contacted it for any purpose regarding the image, the report said.
Meanwhile, the Communist Youth League of China also questioned the reason why the country’s national flag and emblem were watermarked with Visual China’s copyright. A website that tracks trending topic on Weibo said the post received multiple comments and was shared over 90,000 times with jokes that nearly every image in China has been claimed by the company.
“Companies such as China Merchants Bank joked around in the comment sections, wondering why their logo had not been watermarked by the company yet. Alipay also joined the discussion, saying: ‘Have we come too late?’” a report on the whatsonweibo.com website noted. “One commentator pointed out that photos of Taipei were labelled as photos of the ‘capital’ on their site, triggering hundreds of reactions on the company’s political stance on the Taiwan issue,” it added.