Controversy over first known picture of mysterious objects in cosmos
Visual China Group could not have expected the first image of a black hole in space to result in the company being the target of public criticism and triggering debate about copyright protection nationwide.
The image led to the company, a leading media stock-picture and footage provider, becoming involved in a copyright scandal and being temporarily closed for "rectification" work.
On Friday, the Tianjin Cyberspace Administration, in the city where the company is located, fined it 300,000 yuan ($44,750). The administration said many of the images published by the company had been harmful.
In the meantime, a nationwide campaign to regulate copyright images is being launched.
With the company being questioned for improper use of copyright images, legal professionals said the incident could be a "good thing" if the country learned from the case by improving copyright laws and stepping up management of stock-image platforms.
On April 10, netizens found the first image of the black hole had been added to Visual China Group's stock with a copyright claim, meaning anyone using it without paying the company would be infringing on the copyright.
The next day, the company issued a statement in response to questions about the claim. It said the image of the black hole belonged to the European Southern Observatory and had been authorized for use, but not for commercial purposes.
However, the observatory, a 16-nation intergovernmental organization for ground-based astronomy, said the company never contacted it for any purpose regarding the photo.
It added that the company's behavior in using the "so-called authorization" as copyright to sell the image in China and profit from it was illegal.
The incident quickly triggered public outcry after it swept across social media. But what heightened the outrage and sparked nationwide discussion on copyright was a micro blog from the Communist Youth League of China.