Visual China Group (VCG), the Chinese counterpart to Getty Images, came under fire Thursday after it was discovered the platform had earned revenue from selling public domain images.
The digital image service garnered negative attention after it claimed copyright ownership of the first photo ever taken of a black hole and were charging subscribers to use it, Xinhua News Agency reported.
VCG founder Chai Jijun denied the allegations and acknowledged the copyright belonged to the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project team.
Chai's comment was far from enough to quash negative online sentiment from organizations such as the Communist Youth League of China, media companies, and Internet celebrities who lashed out at the company's loose businesses practices on China's Twitter-like Weibo.
It was later revealed VCG had charged subscribers to use images of the Chinese flag and national emblem, widely regarded as public domain.
In the third quarter of 2018, VCG reported a net profit of 83 million yuan, up 24 percent year-on-year.
"We respect intellectual property protection (IPR) in China, but if you are going to do business under the mask of IPR, we cannot tolerate it," a Beijing resident surnamed Chen told the Global Times.
Industry insiders said the VCG scandal should serve as a lesson for Chinese companies while the nation continues its integration within the global economy.
Domestic businesses are obligated to live up to international IPR standards and should avoid careless management practices.