Chinese Firm Now Owns The Rights To Tiananmen Square Tank Man Photo; What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
from the ain't-copyright-grand? dept
A few decades ago, Bill Gates got involved in something of a “side project” in which he tried to gain control over the licensing rights of tons of photographs and artwork, in a project that was eventually called Corbis. Gates had a vision of licensing artwork to special digital frames in people’s homes, but eventually it shifted into a standard photo licensing service. Late last week, the news broke that Gates had finally sold Corbis to a Chinese firm called Visual China Group. Part of the deal is that Corbis’ main competitor, Getty Images (which is fairly well-known for its copyright trolling) will get to handle all licensing on Corbis images outside of China for a period of 10 years. Considering that this effectively gives Getty control over its largest rival’s library, I wonder if the DOJ may take an interest in the deal on anti-trust grounds.
That said, there may be an even bigger issue here. And that’s the fact that Visual China Group will now get control over a bunch of classic photographs concerning the 1989 student uprising in Tiananmen Square — an event the Chinese government has gone out of its way to try to make disappear. For now, at least, you can see many such images, including the Tank Man image at this link. Here’s a screenshot of some of those search results:
Remember that, for years, US intellectual property maximalists have whined and complained that China didn’t “respect” American intellectual property. And they put increasing diplomatic pressure on China to “have more respect” for patents and copyrights. In response, China quickly realized that patents and copyright were a great tool of control for the Chinese government and Chinese industry and have used it to punish foreign companies. And, if the US complains, China just points out that it’s only doing exactly what the US pressured it to do. So don’t be surprised if it starts using copyright in the same manner. In fact, during the big SOPA debate, it’s worth noting that Chinese officials gleefully pointed out how the provisions in SOPA were basically the same as the famed Great Firewall of China.
Once again: yes, copyright can and often is used as a tool for censorship. And that’s why it’ll be worth paying attention to what happens to the licensing rights of these images.