UP student plagiarizes prize-winning photos

Carol RH Malasig

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A UP student is in hot water after apparently plagiarizing several prize-winning photographs

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – A graduate student of the country’s premier state university admitted to passing off as his own a photograph that recently won a contest sponsored by the Chilean ambassador.

University of the Philippines graduate student Mark Joseph Solis made the confession when Rappler contacted him by phone on Sunday, September 22.

“I’m deeply sorry. I’m in deep remorse. Right now, I already contacted the organizers and I’m about to contact the owner to personally convey to him my deepest and personal apology,” Solis said.

Read: UP student apologizes for plagiarism

According to posts on the “Narinig ko sa UP” (Overheard at UP) Facebook page, Solis had done this at least 5 times since 2011.

The most recent photo that Solis claimed to be his won the top prize in the Smiles for the World photo contest conceptualized by Chilean Ambassador Roberto Mayorga.

It came under intense scrutiny on social networks on Sunday after the real owner of the photograph, Gregory John Smith, revealed how “an impostor… abused my copyright.”

Solis submitted a photo of a boy whom he said was named Nilo and was from Zamboanga City. The caption stated that the boy helped his father farm seaweed. 

During Chile’s National Day on Wednesday, September 18, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Solis was awarded $1,000 and roundtrip tickets to Chile and Brazil.

Smith, a social entrepreneur, said the photo belonged to the Children at Risk Foundation, which he founded. The child in the photo was from Brazil, not Zamboanga City, he said.

Smith posted a comment on a recent feature article on the ambassador claiming ownership of the photo.

OUTRAGED. The owner of the controversial photo posted this comment on the article about the Ambassador and his contest on Rappler

Taken from Flickr

Smith pointed to his Flickr account, which contained the same photo – taken in 2006 – along with other photos of children in Brazil. The photo was titled, “Neptune, King of the Sea.” 

THE ORIGINAL. The photo, originally called 'Neptune, King of the sea' posted in the Children at Risk Flickr account managed by Smith. Screengrab from Flickr

UP students expressed shock and anger at the apparent plagiarism. 

Solis is a political science alumnus of UP and is currently taking up his Masters in Public Administration at the National College of Public Administration and Governance.

The website of the International Association of Political Science Students said Solis is a legislative staff of Senator Pia Cayetano.

Cayetano tweeted Sunday, “To those asking, Mark Solis was a probationary staff for three months. He has not been connected with our office since June.”

Not the first time

It wasn’t the first time Solis joined and won a contest using photos taken by other people.

Solis sent Smith’s photo to the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation contest. The caption stated this time that the child was from India, according to posts on the Narinig ko sa UP page.

Another photo he entered into the same contest was also from the Children At Risk Foundation’s Flickr album. 

Screengrab from ICIMOD website (http://www.icimod.org/photocontest/2013/mark-joseph-tajo-solis/20130520_162732.jpg.php)

In 2011, he also entered and won the first Papworth Trust’s photo competition. The owner of the photo is a Flickr user who took the photo in 2008.

Solis also entered 3 photos to a sustainable development photo contest hosted by a European Union company called VinylPlus. All 3 photos were also stolen from Flickr accounts.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, which also held a photo contest in 2011, received a false entry from Solis as well. The original photo, also found on Flickr, even had a watermark on it.


Ambassador Mayorga expressed his deep sadness by the turn of events.

Mayorga told Rappler he only wished to show appreciation on the Calidad Humana of the Filipinos. He added that he hopes this does not tarnish the image of all Filipinos.

“The majority [of Filipinos] have plenty of Calidad Humana,” Mayorga told Rappler, “Unfortunately, these kind of exceptions are the risk you have in your nice country. This shows it is necessary to take care of your good people, preserving among them the positive elements of their personality.”

READ: ‘Calidad Humana’ and exporting the Filipino smile

Mayorga said that they will conduct an investigation into the matter. But he warned that Solis’ conduct may forfeit his award.

Solis said he will meet with the contest organizers on Monday. – Rappler.com

Photographer image via Shutterstock 




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