$12k fine levied on photographer for using own photos

Ever thought about how absurd it would be to get a hefty bill for using your own photos? Well, that nightmare recently came true for an esteemed astrophotographer from China. Jeff Dai, widely recognized for his stunning images of celestial bodies, found himself facing accusations of copyright infringement from Visual China Group (VCG) – also known as the “Getty of China.”

To make matters worse, the violation in question involved photos that Dai himself had taken and shared on social media. And now, he potentially faces a substantial payment of up to $12,000.

In a post on his Weibo account, Dai expressed his shock and outrage: “It’s absolutely unbelievable! Today, I received a call from Visual China Group, claiming that my official account has violated their rights by using 173 of their photos, and they are demanding over 80,000 yuan (around $12,000) in compensation from me.”

However, upon inspecting the accused content, Dai discovered that the so-called “infringing photos” were, in fact, his own work: “I have never collaborated with Visual China, nor have I uploaded my photos to their gallery. How can they claim copyright? Am I supposed to cover their loss?”

According to VCG, Dai had allowed Stocktrek Images, a US-based photography company, to use 173 of his images. Subsequently, Stocktrek shared those photos with Getty Images. Given that VCG is Getty’s primary partner in China, they believed they had the right to sell Dai’s photos there.

But here’s where things get complicated – Dai claims that Stocktrek informed him that VCG shouldn’t have such rights. Although Stocktrek admitted to having a deal with Getty Images, they allegedly instructed both Getty and VCG to remove Dai’s photos. “I never collaborated with VCG for these photos, and I never uploaded them to their gallery,” Dai stated. So, who is really infringing on whose copyright here?!

As of Thursday morning, Dai’s photos are not accessible on VCG’s or Stocktrek’s websites. In fact, they have even been removed from Getty’s website

However, a few hours ago, the situation escalated dramatically. Dai shared a troubling private message he received on Weibo: “I just received a threatening message stating that if I don’t apologize to Visual China, they will execute my entire family.

I have already contacted the police! I will take legal action to protect my rights and interests in accordance with the law!” The matter has now taken an alarming turn, with potentially serious consequences.

This isn’t the first time Visual China Group has courted controversy. As highlighted by the Global Times, in 2019, they attempted to claim copyright over and sell the first-ever image of a black hole. Not only that, but they also made audacious copyright claims on the Chinese flag, national emblem, and various company logos.

Remarkably, VCG and its subsidiaries reportedly filed over 2,000 lawsuits alleging copyright violations in just 2017 and 2018.

One notable incident involved 500px. Following its acquisition by VCG in 2018, the popular photography platform faced increased scrutiny. Concerns further escalated when a major data breach occurred in 2019, compromising the privacy of its users. Trust crumbling amidst such controversies is not surprising.

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