American shuts down repository of historic photos of Taiwan, selling it for NT$60,000

Owner of Taipics.com shutting down site, selling souvenir business for NT$60,000, including 10,400 historic photos 'free of charge' 

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TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- An American expat, who managed a massive online collection of vintage photographs of Taiwan since 1995, has shut down the website and is wanting to sell 10,400 historic public domain photos of Taiwan for NT$60,000 (US$1,967) as he prepares to leave the country.

On July 1, the administrator of Taipics.com announced that after running the massive repository of 10,400 historic photos of Taiwan, he was planning to leave the country for good, is selling the plans for a souvenir gift business for NT$60,000 and will include 10,400 historic public domain images "free of charge."

According to Formosa News, Taipics was created by two expats and the article, which was published in 2011, listed the site as having 4,600 vintage photos. It appears the owner, who was listed as an "American expat" in a 2017 article on neocha.com, has decided to package the photos with a "business plan." 

On the single remaining accessible interior page of the website, the owner states that he has been trying to set up a souvenir venture called "The Formosa Pacific Merchantile Co.," which he claims include "30 unique souvenir gift products." As he plans to leave Taiwan permanently, he is offering to sell the "business" for NT$60,000, which includes the logo, a PowerPoint of 30 product ideas, the formosapacific.com domain name, a sales and marketing plan, and a list of vendor contacts and possible sales channel contacts. 

The owner believes that his proposed business could generate NT$500,000 in net profit per month and "potentially become the #1 giftware business in Taiwan." Rather than sell the collection of often extremely rare historic photos, which he believes all to be public domain, he is including them for free to the first person who buys his business plan.


Photo of indigenous women with facial tattoos. (Taipics.com)

Many netizens were angered when they stumbled upon the announcement, with one user of the social media site Reddit describing the owner of holding the popular historic photo archive as "hostage." While the Reddit user acknowledged that much work went into creating the collection, it was vexing that the owner was not only wanting a large payment for rare historic photos of Taiwan that are in the public domain, but also the way in which they are lumped in as part of purchasing the so-called "business plan" seemed contrary to the purported spirit of the site:

Credit to the owner for building and maintaining such a big collection of historical photos for over a decade, of course, but come on. Taiwan's history belongs to its people, not some angry foreigner looking to make a quick buck before leaving Taiwan for good. The effort to categorize and organize all this is laudable, but it couldn't have met an uglier fate.


Caption reads "Native family visiting a temple." (Taipics.com)

Some question the validity of selling public domain photos in the first place, though others point out that collections of public domain works may be protected by copyright, at least under American law. 

In an archived version of the website dated July 2016, the site's owner lamented about the lack of proper citations of his collections:

"It is very discouraging to find many Taiwanese copying entire pages of this site to their blogs, forums and other photo sites without even a single link back. I have over 8000 new images to add to this collection, but what is the point if this archive is abused?"

The owner of Taipics declined to comment on the matter after being contacted by Taiwan News.