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The Decade-Long Image Licensing War Is Suddenly Over

3 minute read

For the last decade, Getty Images and Bill Gates’ Corbis Images were competing for the top spot in the image licensing business. That fight is now over.

On Jan. 22, Visual China Group (VCG), an imagery licensing company in China, acquired the digital and physical assets, names and trademarks of Corbis Images, Corbis Motion and Veer, putting an end to Gates’ dream to bring great imagery to people’s homes. Corbis was originally known as Interactive Home Systems when Gates envisioned a system that would automatically distribute artworks to consumers’ screens.

As part of the deal, which also includes the historic collections from the Sygma and Bettmann archives, Getty Images will take on the distribution of these assets outside of China, adding millions of images to its already extensive archives and bringing the years-long struggle between itself and Corbis to an end.

“We’ve been partners with VCG for 10 years,” says Craig Peters, Getty Images’ Senior Vice President of Business Development. “We’re partnering with VCG to distribute [Corbis’ content] out into our markets, and that’s basically every market outside of China. That will be an exclusive relationship.”

For VCG, the deal is a way to bolster its activities in China. “We have been exploring opportunities to extend our portfolio by buying into world-class assets to capture the evolving demand for visual communication around the world,” VSG’s CEO Amy Liang tells TIME in a phone interview. “The deal strengthens our dominant position in China’s imaging industry. It also marks a significant milestone in VCG’s journey of globalization.”

Initially, Corbis’ content will continue to be available on the Seattle-based company’s website and through its sales staff. But, says Peters, “over a short period of time, we will be moving the premium content on the Getty Images’ platform.” Getty Images will also manage Corbis’ physical archives on behalf of VCG. “We will be going through and continue to look for opportunities to digitize both the Sygma and Bettmann physical archives,” says Peters.

This transfer of assets – the images will also be available to Chinese customers on VSG’s website – could potentially lead to layoffs at Corbis’ image licensing divisions. “I think both Corbis and VCG will work closely together to ensure a proper transition and to maximize the commercial value we can get from these assets and also we keep in mind the best interest of our employees,” says Liang.

“There are continuing business elements that are not included in this transaction,” adds Peters. “Certain Corbis staff will be associated with those businesses going forward. And certainly, Getty Images will look for opportunities to leverage any staff that is necessary to bring this content to market and to continue to maintain the content.”

As for Corbis’ contributing photographers and videographers, VCG will assume control of all existing contracts going forward. “Contributors will [be able] to execute their rights as their contracts stipulate,” Peters add.

Earlier on Jan. 22, Getty Images’ co-founder and chairman welcomed the deal on Twitter:

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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