Will Chinese firm VCG ban sensitive pics like Tiananmen’s ‘Tank Man’ after buying assets to Bill Gates-owned Corbis Images?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2016, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2016, 5:37pm

American stock photo agency Getty Images expects no interference in its distribution of sensitive historical photos from China such as Tiananmen’s “Tank Man” following the sale of Bill Gates-owned Corbis Images content to an affiliate of Visual China Group (VCG) last week.

Getty signed a separate deal with VCG to distribute the Corbis-owned images to customers outside China following the sale.

“Our distribution partnership with VCG will in no way impact Getty Images’ independence, decision-making or editorial practices,” a spokesman said on Thursday.

The “Tank Man” photo from Corbis’ collection is among a handful of photos that captured the same moment during the Tiananmen protests in Beijing in 1989.

Although included in the Corbis’ photo collection, it was owned by British news agency Reuters. As such, it is up to Reuters not VCG to decide how and where the photo is distributed, according to a spokesperson for Getty.

“VCG purchased Corbis’ brands and the copyright to owned archives. VCG did not purchase the copyright to all imagery available on the Corbis websites,” the person added.

Image agencies like Getty and Corbis distribute the image they own, as well as those from third-party owners. The same “Tank Man” photo can be also found on the website of Japan’s Amana Images.

Corbis and VCG announced on January 22 that Unity Glory International, an affiliate of VCG owned by VCG’s major shareholders, had acquired the assets and brands of Corbis’ Images division. According to Reuters Shanghai, VCG will pay no more than US$100 million for the purchase.

“The transaction strengthens our dominant position in China’s image industry, enhances our core competence in the global high-end image market, and marks a significant milestone on our journey of globalisation,” said Amy Jun Liang, CEO of VCG.

“VCG has partnered with Getty Images for over a decade to market and distribute [its ] award-winning content exclusively in China,” Getty said in a statement.

VCG did not respond to an inquiry from the South China Morning Post about its thoughts on the issue of censorship in China.

Founded in 2000, VCG is the first company in the country to license and distribute images online. The group went public in 2014 on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and has a current market cap of 17.5 billion yuan (US$2.66 billion).

And it is not the only Chinese firm investing in foreign companies in the content and entertainment business.

Chinese property giant Wanda Group bought a majority stake in Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment for US$3.5 billion earlier this month.

Meanwhile, online video streaming service Huanxi Media, a Hong Kong-listed Chinese film company, invested US$10 million in international movie streaming company Mubi earlier this month to acquire an 8 per cent share.