China’s largest stock images provider, Visual China Group, shut its website and apologized on Friday after it falsely claimed copyright of images such as the first photo of a black hole and China’s national flag. The company, which partners with U.S. photo agency Getty Images, said in a post on its official Weibo account the incident revealed its weak management and that it was cooperating with authorities investigating the matter. Shares in the company slumped by the maximum 10 percent allowed. The topic “Visual China apologises” was among the most-read items on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform on Friday, with over 250 million views…
The country’s leaders have pledged to do more to protect intellectual property rights amid complaints by the United States and other key trading partners about the theft of such assets. Elliot Papageorgiou, the Shanghai-based head of the IP practice at law firm Clyde & Co., said Visual China’s use of the black hole image was embarrassing due to the photo’s high profile. “It comes at an inconvenient time because China is trying hard to get recognition for some positive steps it is taking to protect intellectual property,” he said.
The company had claimed to have received authorization for using the photo – though not for commercial purposes – from the European Southern Observatory. But today the government-owned China Daily newspaper notes that “The European Southern Observatory, responding to questions from the National Business Daily in an email, said Visual China never contacted it for any purpose regarding the image. It said Visual China did not need to ask for authorization to reproduce the image provided the credit was clear and visible, but ‘the behavior of using the so-called authorization as a copyright to sell the image in China and profit from it is illegal…’”
“The official accounts of many large companies, including Baidu, Phoenix News Media, major retailer Suning and Qihoo 360, an internet security company, also left comments about having found their logos on Visual China with a copyright claim.”