BEIJING – Chinese authorities have suspended the website of the country’s largest stock images provider after it was found to have put its copyright mark on the first ever photo taken of a black hole, state-owned China Daily newspaper reported on Friday.
Visual China Group (VCG) has been alleged to have published with its watermark the black hole photo soon after it was released on Wednesday, leading the cyberspace affairs authority in Tianjin (north) to suspend its website.
The incident led to the National Copyright Administration in China announcing on Friday that it would launch a campaign to regulate the image copyright market, underlining that firms should set up mechanisms to uphold copyright as per legal requirements.
The copyright claim over a picture, which was released by Event Horizon Telescope and was not meant for commercial usage, meant that users downloading the image from VCG were required to pay for it.
All images provided by organizations like the European Southern Observatory and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are available for free as long as users cite the source.
The photo of the black hole, located 53.3 million light years from the Earth and taken by the Event Horizon Telescope also fell under this category.
The Chinese company issued a statement saying they had obtained the rights of the image for use in the media and not for commercial use such as advertisements.
However, ESO – which holds the rights over the image – has denied having received any message from VCG, and said it was illegal for the Chinese firm to ask money for the use of the photo.
The incident led to protests in social networks in the Asian country, some of them from other companies and organizations that found their own content on the VCG website.
Moreover, the Communist Youth League Central Committee, on its official handle on Weibo – Chinese equivalent of Twitter – criticized VCG for making users pay for photographs of the national emblem on its website.
The authorities at Tianjin decided to suspend the website in the wake of the controversy, even though VCG released another statement with an apology and admitting that many of its images came from third parties without any ties to their company.
Founded in June 2000, VCG had collected revenues to the tune of 700 million yuan ($104.18 million) in the first three quarters of 2018.