I have long admired Bill Gates for his incredible philanthropy around the world. It is for that reason that I was astonished by the news that Gates had sold the rights to a huge number of photos to the Visual China Group. The sale will now placed images from Tiananmen Square, including the iconic Tank Man photo, in the hands of the Chinese who hope to bury them and any memory of the uprising. The sale of Gates’ Corbis likely made a tidy profit but it is a political bonanza for the censors of the Chinese government.
Gates bought up the licensing rights to photographs and artwork to create special digital frames in people’s homes. That did not pan out so he ran a photo licensing service through Corbis.
Now a Chinese company can use copyright laws to curtail the reproduction of images of the protest and the massacre. While the images will still be available outside of China under an agreement with Getty, civil libertarians fear that China will use its new licensing power to snuff out visual records of the massacre.
China has long worked to wipe out any mention or record of its infamous 1989 crackdown. It is a curious move for someone who has spent so much to help others in the world. Clearly there were other buyers for these images or he could have at least removed those images from the sale. Instead, Gates must handed the repressive Chinese government control of records of its own infamous crimes.
As Joe Stalin predicted, “When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope we use.”
Kudos: Aidan Turley