Can you imagine being charged thousands of dollars for using your own images? Neither can I, but this has recently happened to a renowned Chinese astrophotographer. Visual China Group (VCG) or “the Getty of China” accused Jeff Dai of copyright violation after he shared his own photos on social media. And for this “violation,” he might need to pay up to $12,000.
“It’s truly outrageous! I received a call from Visual China Group today, claiming that my official account infringed upon their rights by using 173 of their photos, and that I need to compensate them more than 80,000 yuan,” Dai wrote on his Weibo account on Tuesday.
“When I checked the content, I discovered that these so-called ‘infringing photos’ were all taken by me.
I have never collaborated with Visual China, nor have my works been uploaded to their gallery. How can they claim the copyright? I’m expected to cover the loss?”
Dai was reportedly requested to pay VCG 51,900 yuan (around $7,000) in compensation or 86,500 yuan ($12,000) as a “usage fee.”
How did it even get to this?
VCG says that Dai let Stocktrek Images, a U.S. photo company, use 173 of his shots. Stocktrek then passed them to Getty Images, and since VCG is Getty’s main partner in China, VCG thinks they can sell Dai’s photos there.
But Dai’s side of the story? He says Stocktrek told him VCG shouldn’t have those rights. Even though Stocktrek admits they’ve got a deal with Getty Images, they’ve reportedly told both Getty and VCG to remove Dai’s photos. “I have never worked with VCG on these photos and never uploaded them to their gallery,” Dai said, according to the Global Times. So who’s violating whose copyright here?!
As of Thursday morning, Dai’s photos aren’t available on either VCG’s or Stocktrek’s website. According to PetaPixel, they have been deleted from Getty’s website, too.
But only a few hours ago, all of this got completely out of control. Dai shared on Weibo a serious threat that he received:
“I just received a private message threatening that if I don’t apologize to Visual China, they will kill my entire family. I’ve already contacted the police! I will pursue legal action to protect my legitimate rights and interests as per the law!”
Controversy around VCG
This isn’t the first time VCG has stirred controversy over the past few years, as the Global Times notes. In 2019, they tried to claim copyright and sell the first-ever photo of a black hole. According to the same source, they even tried to claim copyright over the Chinese flag and national emblem, as well as the logos of multiple companies. VCG and its subsidiaries reportedly filed more than 2,000 lawsuits alleging copyright violations in 2017 and 2018 alone.