Student Wins Several International Competitions With Stolen Photos

Mark Joseph Solis, a student attending the University of Philippines, won a $1000 prize and round trip tickets to Chile and Brazil for his winning photo in the "Smiles for the World" competition. However, the photo is not his, he stole it right off Flickr. Further investigation has revealed that Solis has won numerous competitions over the last 3 years using other photos he never took, but rather stole from others online.

In addition to submitting the photo Solis came up with a story, city, even name for the boy in the photo. Of course it was all made up.

Here is Solis accepting the money and roundtrip tickets during an award ceremony with the stolen photo being displayed proudly behind him.

The competition took place on September 18th and the owner of the photo, Gregory John Smith, discovered the stolen photo after being tipped off by "emails from all over the world." He called it out in the comments of the news story covering the contest.

Fstoppers Stolen Photos Mark Solis Post from Gregory John Smith

Smith's photo which Solis claimed to be his own can be seen here on Flickr.

After being caught Solis has been quick to apologize coming out publicly and even sending a letter today to Smith. But this is not his first time doing it. In fact, he used the same photo to win another contest, United Nations International Year of Water Photo Contest as you can see here on their website announcement (note the owner of the photo at the bottom). Here's another example of a photo he submitted to a contest in 2008, yet again stolen straight from Flickr. And again.

Solis sent a letter to Smith today to apologize for using the stolen photo to win the contest.

It is sickening to see how often Solis has stolen photos from others to submit them to contests. The ones highlighted above are just the ones that have been discovered. Makes you wonder how many other contests are out there that have entries from "photographers" that have been stolen? In fact, just a month ago Fstoppers shared the story of how a stolen photo won the Samsung Live in The Moment Photo Contest. Every time I read stories like this it frustrates me to think that people are actually ok with themselves when they steal someones work and present it as their own. I tried to reach out to Solis for any comment but his Twitter and Facebook page have been taken down.

[Via Rappler, Via Reddit]

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wesjones's picture

youth and lack of experience have nothing to do with it.. a thief is a thief. No excuses.

Aditya Mendiratta's picture

Yes. It sucks that these people do the same things after coming across repeated stories of photo theft. They later end up giving excuses which does not make up for it at all.

Deleted Account's picture


Mark Ramirez's picture

He's a graduate student taking up public administration with hopes to be one day be a politician.... Imagine the corruption this kid will bring to an already corrupt government. He said he did it because of financial difficulties.. what a load of bull. A lot of students from the same University he came from are poverty stricken and have worked their way to pay for tuition and every day living.

Hahs Narmi's picture

I agree with u! For him to have done it on many occasions and to only feel remorseful now, imo, is a little too fake. I pity his mother though.

Noam Galai's picture

At least he apologized. It's not like it's fixing what he did, but this is something many others fail to do in situations like this. I hope that unlike Samsung - this time the prize will be transferred to the photographer who took that picture..

Rob Barnes's picture

What is this, his 4th time stealing? Sounds like he will continue to steal when possible.

Trevor Dayley's picture

4th time stealing... that we know of.

Spencer Lefevre's picture

He might just have simple template he writes out to these people. So disturbing to see.

DeathNTexas's picture

I get the feeling he is very sorry.... sorry he got caught.

Noam Galai's picture

Yup... i hope it will teach him a lesson

Paul Maka-Kea's picture

noamgalai your missing the point the guy has stolen before so your comment about him apologizing is invalid..hes a thief and should be treated like one.get with the program mate!

Noam Galai's picture

Dont worry man, im with you on this. Just said that in many other cases they dont even try to apologize. It doesnt mean what he did is right

Paul Maka-Kea's picture

fair comment mate point taken

Rob Barnes's picture

I think what people are trying to say is that even though he apologized, it was an empty apology. Its like a child that breaks something, says they are sorry, smirks and then goes and breaks something else again because they know all they have to do is say some quick words to make it ok.
If I steal from someone, say Im sorry, then go steal from someone else, does it make it ok because I said sorry? First time, it might be heartfelt but 4th time going in? Not a chance..
Hes not trying to apologize, hes trying to calm the situation down by sending a letter that hes sorry he got caught. He knew better from the first couple times he was caught cheating. Like someone else said, this may even be a form letter he sends to people.

Pheelyp Aytona's picture

I believe the Chilean embassy has stated that the prize can only be awarded to Filipino citizens, and thus the owner of the photo cannot receive it.

The second prize winner will be receiving the first prize award, and so on down the line.

Phil Stefans's picture

Maybe they should get him on the judging panel...seems like he can pick a photo that will win competitions...I've still got no idea...

Mentot's picture

same thought as my sister & me :)
The guy may be a thief but his eyes does not lie.
If only that eye was gifted to some pure soul instead...

Michael Preston's picture

Sorry to have been caught more likely. As it's the fourth time he's done this I have a bit of trouble believing in his 'deep remorse'.

EnticingHavoc's picture

It's not that pathetic dude who makes me sick, it's the lax rules of assessing whether a contribution is genuine or not.
I was in the belief that adding the RAW image was mandatory on such photo contests ???
Therefore I think it's more appropriate to give the jury a serious scolding on their wanton carelessness.

Stephen Clampitt's picture

According to his bio..."Mark Joseph Tajo a JASSO exchange scholar at the Faculty of Law, Kyushu University in Japan..."
He's studying Law at Kyushu University?

Mark Pearson's picture

He's a thief, but you believe his bio??

Stephen Clampitt's picture

Hahaha-You're not that literal minded are you? How the L do you misunderstand my post? What-I have to make a smiley face for you? write "SARCASM"? :-)

Guest's picture

He's an alumnus from Up and went to kyushu university for a short time i thiink
now he's taking masters at UP again

RESO's picture

He's an alumnus from Up and went to kyushu university for a short time i thiink
now he's taking masters at UP

micha8583's picture

Just as previously mentioned, any price awarded picture needs to be verified by its raw file. No problem there.

I pass the buck to the judges who hand out prize money all too easy.
It takes all of five minutes of comparing the first 3 places with their raw files, but saves tons of emarassement.

DeathNTexas's picture

Comparing RAW files is an almost fool proof way, but cases like this are incredibly easy to check. Dragging this photo to the Google images search field reveals its true owner in a matter of seconds. You are right, the contest administrators did not even put in the minimal effort to verify ownership.

Xine's picture

The contest administrators might not be that tech savvy and that may be what people like mark solis are counting on.

DeathNTexas's picture

Then they should hire someone, like a sixteen year old. Or... you know... not run a photo contest if they can't insure fair play.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I think where this method fails though is that not all images are shot in raw. While I find it unlikely that this photo could have been made as is with a camera in JPG mode it isn't conceivable to imagine that many other potentially winning images could be.

micha8583's picture

Another way to verify the winner is to ask for "sibling images". Hardly no snapshot gets taken allone, without several others in the same environment on the same day with the same or similar subject.

Uploading upon request a screenshot of the whole shoot or the whole day might put the casual thief hard at ease.

However a solution might turn out to be, the current practice of proof of ownership is like handing you the win of the NCY Marathon without making sure that you even showed up at the starting line,

Pheelyp Aytona's picture

Very well said, micha8583.

Noel Salazar's picture

University of *the Philippines ^^

gerard pacana's picture

I'm a Filipino and I do photography as a hobby the only thing I could say is : he has an eye on how to win such photography competitions but maybe his only problem is, he don't have any camera to use or maybe just a plain thief after all :)

Larry Gaurano's picture

Gerard, seriously... do you have to open with that? "I'm a Filipino... his problem is he doesn't have a camera?" I mean, seriously??? That just makes Filipinos sound worse. I'm an American Filipino, and I've seen this all too often.

No, not Filipinos cheating. That happens as often as other individuals from other ethnic groups that cheat. No, what I'm furious about is that when a Filipino does wrong doing, there's always other Filipinos that will excuse or justify it.

There's no justification for this. None whatsoever. That's like someone saying, well the reason I lied about being CEO for Google on my resume is because Google wouldn't hire me as their CEO. SERIOUSLY?!?!

As a Filipino, I believe that Solis' penalty should be much much more severe, to the tune of being expelled from school. Is that harsh? Nope! He did this countless times, with major organizations. Needless to say, if he's willing to cheat on this, what else has he cheated on? Yea, everything he's done in his "youth", should be fair game to be under suspicion.

Trish Castro's picture

^ I agree! This news has gone worldwide. He has brought disgrace to his university and should be punished accordingly. Expel the guy. He deserves it.

Perhaps he should just stick to writing. He's good at making up bullsh*t stories anyway.

Lorri Adams's picture

[As a Filipino, I believe that Solis' penalty should be much much more
severe, to the tune of being expelled from school. Is that harsh? Nope!
He did this countless times, with major organizations. Needless to say,
if he's willing to cheat on this, what else has he cheated on? Yea,
everything he's done in his "youth", should be fair game to be under
- Agreed! Especially if he is a law student, although . . . wait a minute . . . nah, joking, he should be expelled, end of story.

gerard pacana's picture

What I mean on this is how can he submit such entries without grabbing others work if he has a camera and it doesn't mean that it makes Filipino worst...

I just stated that I am a Filipino because I am proud being a one...

epiquestions's picture

Having an eye for great photos does not automatically make you a good photographer. It's like you can appreciate the beauty of a painting but it does not mean that you can paint. Having no camera is NOT an excuse to steal from others and claim it as your own so that you can join and win a contest.

gerard pacana's picture

You're right on that having no camera is not an excuse. My point is maybe that is one of the main reason why he joined the contest using others work, and I did not say that he is a good photographer. How can he be a good photographer with out a camera?hehehehehe

Erick's picture

Spot on Gerard! and by the way I'm Filipino too!:)

mark pogi's picture

He has an Eye, Seriously??? Maybe he has an eye to cheat to win.

His actions were too embarrassing not only to the UP Community, but to the entire Photographer's Society as well.

gerard pacana's picture

In my own opinion he really has an eye, how can he won all those entry if he don't have one or such taste...It doesn't mean that I agree on grabbing other's work.....

Let's just say: A cheater with a good taste in grabbing those photos.....

Erick's picture

He should be severely punished seriously

Ricky Tang's picture

Just to be clear with your thought and disregard your nationality, you are saying that it is okay to use other photographer's work and claim it as your own and not have a problem to do it, right? So, then how about asking people around to use YOUR photos for free, since they have an eye for photos that can win competitions and because they don't own cameras. Boy, you've got a very sick logic to start with to share this kind of thought.

gerard pacana's picture

Is that a discrimination about me (excluding my nationality) or you just don't understand what my thought is all about....
Please read it again.... I just said he has an eye to win such competitions because most of his entries where selected, Right? The bad thing is it doesn't belong to him that is why I said: maybe he is a plain thief after all....

Vin Cruz's picture

He's not discriminating. He's just saying that nationality should just be disregarded since it doesn't matter in this situation. Cheating is wrong whether you are a Filipino or some other nationality.

Yes he might have an eye for picking up photos that would likely win competitions, however the sad thing is, why didn't he use that talent to capture and conceptualize his own photos?

Why did he have to resort to stealing other people's work?

gerard pacana's picture

Do you think it's okay for you to me to say that you've very sick logic to start with to share that kind of thought.
For me it is not....that is why i had said that he is like discriminating me personally. I know you don't like Mark Solis for what he did but for me it is like a shout out against him not admiring him..

epiquestions's picture

"Guy's its a freedom of speech, right? What i mean on this is why would
he grab others peoples creation if he can make on his own, but if he
don't have a camera how can he."

this statement made your arguments confusing if not wrong.

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