Visual China expands photo archive, to invest $100 million in Getty Images

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese image licensing company Visual China Group said it plans to invest up to $100 million in Getty Images as the Shenzhen-listed firm expands its footprint in the global picture library.

The deal comes a month after Corbis Entertainment, the image licensing company owned by Microsoft Corp’s co-founder Bill Gates, sold its picture library business to Visual China for an undisclosed sum.

That gave Visual China exclusive distribution rights to the Corbis content it bought for all regions, except China, including politically sensitive images such as the photo of a lone protester standing in front of tanks ahead of Beijing’s crackdown on democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Visual China’s purchase of pictures considered sensitive by authorities in Beijing had raised question among industry experts as to whether these images may become harder to access.

With a market value of 16.4 billion yuan ($2.5 billion), Visual China has partnered with Getty Images for more than a decade to market and distribute Getty’s content exclusively in China.

Shares of Visual China jumped by their daily 10 percent limit to 25.85 yuan in early trade after it announced its investment plan.

Getty Images, which is backed by U.S. private equity group Carlyle, has been struggling to compete against start-ups in the lower end of the market.

Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree and Umesh Desai; Editing by Miral Fahmy