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Visual China Group Under Fire for Claiming to Own Copyrights to Black Hole Image, National Flag, and Practically Everything

If the Visual China Group isn’t selling the copyrights of your images, you’re a nobody.

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The Visual China Group’s website has been temporarily shut down after controversy over the company claiming the copyrights of the black hole image and the Chinese national flag in its library of stock photos and illustrations. The question “Have you been watermarked by the Visual China Group yet?” has become a hot topic on Weibo.

The Beijing-based photo and media agency Visual China Group (视觉中国) is under fire for claiming they own the copyright in China of the first-ever supermassive black hole photo that has been making international headlines this week.

Screenshots from the Chinese company’s website showed that the image, that was captured by the telescope network of Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) through the collective efforts of 200 astronomers around the world, was claimed to belong to the Visual China Group and that it could only be used by others after purchasing copyright for it.

Visual China Group is also dubbed the “Getty of China” by some English-language media. Getty is a leading American supplier of stock images and photography. Noteworthy is that the Weibo page of Visual China Group also has the url “www.weibo.com/gettyimages.”

According to Business Times, the image’s original copyright belongs to European Southern Observatory (ESO) and is licensed under a Creative Commons license, which means it may be used on a non-exclusive basis to be reproduced without fee if the credit is clear and visible.

Screenshots of a chat conversation with the Visual China Group are making its rounds on Chinese social media, in which a representative of the company suggests the black hole image belongs to them and can only be used after fees are paid.

On Friday, April 12, various Chinese media reported that the Visual China Group’s website was temporarily shut down after receiving orders from the Tianjin branch of China’s internet watchdog (天津市互联网信息办公室) on Thursday night to rectify its online library.

The controversy over Visual China Group grew bigger when it was discovered that China’s national flag, emblem, Mao’s portrait, and many other images were also watermarked by the company. The Weibo account of China’s Communist Youth League (@共青团中央) was one of the groups calling the company out for this on April 11, writing: “Does the copyright of the national flag and national emblem also belong to your company, @VisualChina?”

The Communist Youth League’s post received more than 110000 comments and was shared over 91700 times at time of writing. Various companies, including Phoenix News, Ctrip, Haier, Xiaomi, and Suning, also joined the discussion in the Communist Youth League’s thread, wondering why their logos or images were also listed in the Visual China Group’s copyright database.

So many companies found their logos and images to be listed in the Visual China Group’s library, that the question “Have you been watermarked by the Visual China Group yet?” started making its rounds online, with many netizens joking that practically every image in China had been claimed by the company.

Companies such as China Merchants Bank joked around in the comment sections, wondering why their logo had not been watermarked by the company yet. Alipay also joined the discussion, saying: “Have we come too late?”

Digging up more dirt on the Visual China Group has almost become somewhat of an online challenge for some Chinese netizens over the past two days. One commenter pointed out that photos of Taipei were labeled as photos of the ‘capital’ on their site, triggering hundreds of reactions on the company’s political stance on the Taiwan issue.

By now, the Visual China Group has apologized on its official Weibo account, stating they would review their online database in accordance with relevant laws and regulations to avoid similar situations in the future.

It is not clear when the site will be back online.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

‘Hard Isolation’ is Shanghai’s New Word of the Day

In line with a new ‘hard isolation’ measure, the entrances of some Shanghai residential buildings were fenced up.

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While some Shanghai households have already endured weeks of isolation, a new word was added to their epidemic vocabulary today: ‘hard isolation’ or ‘strong quarantine’ (yìng gélí 硬隔离)

The word popped up on Chinese social media on April 23rd after some Shanghai netizens posted photos of fences being set up around their community building to keep residents from walking out.

“New word: hard isolation. Shanghai is rotten to the core,” one commenter wrote.

The word soon turned into a hashtag page where people started commenting on the issue of fences being placed around residential buildings, voicing concerns on what a fence around buildings would mean for fire safety, especially after online rumors suggested that there had been a fire at one community in Pudong on Saturday night.

An official document regarding the ‘hard isolation’ measure was also shared online on Saturday. It is dated April 23, 2022, and its source is the Pudong New Area Office for Epidemic Control.

The document states that in line with the guidelines for the city’s epidemic prevention and control, the division between areas or zones that are in certain risk categories should be ‘optimized,’ with those in the high-risk category requiring a ‘hard isolation.’ Security guards should also be on duty 24 hours a day at the entrance of the buildings.

Earlier this month, Shanghai adopted “3-level control measures” after its initial phased lockdown. It means that local areas will be classified as “locked-down,” “controlled” or “precautionary,” based on their Covid19 risk.

“Could we also put fences around the homes of Shanghai leaders?”, one person suggested, while others posted images from the Walking Dead to mock the situation.

In the hope of Shanghai soon tackling the Covid situation, not everybody disagreed with the decision to fence some buildings or communities in the Pudong area: “I don’t disagree with it, as long as there is always someone there to open the fence in case of fire,” one person stated.

Although having a fence around their building is currently not a reality for most in Shanghai, the online photos of some communities seeing their buildings being fenced up is a reason to worry for some: “It’s been 40 days, and now they start hard isolation? This actually scares me. Before we know it, it’s June.”

One Weibo user asked: “Why is it possible to implement this hard isolation now? Was this created by the same persons who also implemented the rule to separate children from parents at isolation sites?”

“I truly can’t imagine why some people thought this is a good idea,” others wrote.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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