The Curious Case of Mark Joseph Solis: The Danger of Misunderstanding Self-Interest

Solis bagged US$1,000 dollars and round trips tickets to Brazil and Chile for winning the photo contest organized by Chilean Ambassador to Manila Roberto Mayorga and his team.
Solis bagged US$1,000 dollars and round trips tickets to Brazil and Chile for winning the photo contest organized by Chilean Ambassador to Manila Roberto Mayorga and his team.

What could have motivated a well-schooled graduate student of the University of the Philippines to plagiarize prize-winning photographs despite knowing fully well they’re not his?

Some people might say the motivating factor could be greed or self-interest (e.g., the desire to win the prize money and to achieve an unearned international prestige).

But why would a supposedly schooled (not educated) person steal some people’s works?

I offer an entirely different answer to my first question– an answer that will explain why would a schooled and seemingly articulate grad student do such a thing.

No, it’s certainly not “greed” or self-interest that motivated Mr. Solis’ photo-grabbing. It was his dangerous misinterpretation of “greed” or self-interest. 

In fact, the guy has taught us a valuable lesson. His curious photo-grabbing case taught us not to confuse self-interest with self-destruction. The YouTube video below shows Solis’ admission wherein he said he did it because he was poor and that he simply wanted to help his struggling family. In other words, he was forced to steal because he badly needed money.

Solis said:

“Hirap din sa buhay. Minsan gusto mo rin ng bagong gamit kahit papano. Minsan kapos sa tuition. In fact ngayon hindi pa ako nakakabayad ng tuition ko sa UP. Para makabigay din ako sa pamilya ko… Kay mama.”

What Mr. Solis is saying is, poverty is an excuse to do bad, immoral things. His statement tells me it’s okay to steal someone else’s copyrighted work when you’re experiencing financial difficulty and if your intention is noble, that is, to help your family.

But that’s an utterly wrong, immoral, stupid way to help his family. Instead of helping his family, his photo-grabbing did not only destroy his name and probably his future; it also brought despair to his family, especially his mother.

However, I give him credit for having the ability to spot winning photos (pun intended)! He somehow knew his entries had the potential to win photo competitions. The problem is, he’s too stupid. He thought he could just steal someone people’s photos online and get away with it. So, instead of serving his “self-interest” (to keep his prize money and to gain international prestige), he achieved SELF-DESTRUCTION.

Some people have this misguided notion that self-interest is what you feel or desire at the moment. They naively believe that self-interest is all about satisfying your desires or wishes, regardless of whether those desires or wishes turn out to be destructive in the long run (e.g., drug addiction, alcohol addiction, bad lifestyle, bad eating habit that can lead to obesity, etc.)

Self-interest should be long-term and not destructive. If Mr. Solis were concerned about his self-interest or welfare, he should have done his best to learn how to be a good photographer and then submit his own personal, copyrighted entries to the competition. Yet he did the opposite– or the easy yet dishonest way– by simply stealing someone people’s works he found online. He wanted an unearned prize money and an unearned prestige or honor.

The same principle applies to the case of Janet Lim Napoles and her political clients. If we only had a strong, impartial, incorruptible justice system and well informed voters, Napoles and her pork-financiers in the government would have been languishing in jail a long, long time ago.

While watching his acceptance video, I was wondering, how could he keep a straight face while telling a barefaced lie to the audience and competition organizers?

Mr. Smith, the real owner of Solis’ winning photo, calls the attention of Chiliean Ambassador Robert Mayorga.

Personally I couldn’t have done it. In fact, the mere thought passing off as my own a photo that won a contest would make me shudder. I would have felt tremendous guilt, shame and remorse.

I was wondering, what did Solis feel while he delivered his acceptance speech? Did he feel guilt? Did he feel shame or fake happiness? Yet watching his acceptance speech makes me think he’s really good at lying.

In fact, several posts on the “Narinig ko sa UP” (Overheard at UP) reveal Solis had done the same thing at least 5 times since 2011.

Solis is not just clueless about things; he’s also stupid. He should have known, since he joined an international competition, that the real copyright owners of his entries could find and see them online. Or, anybody who knows how to use the Internet could easily verify his entries via

Perhaps Solis’ case is one of the logical results of teaching the value of “unearned” prestige or honor to students (e.g., you’re a iskolar ng bayan, therefore, you are part of what Winnie Monsod calls “the creme de la creme”) instead of EARNED prestige. Students who were exposed to this kind of indoctrination would end up becoming “second-handers”, grade-conscious, “prestige”-conscious and diploma-toting academic zombies.

SUGGESTION: Check his academic papers as well. Run his papers through Turnitin or any plagiarism detector software. 

How to know if an image or a photograph is copyrighted or already owned by someone else? 

Solis is too stupid, but the photo contest organizers are stupider.  Do they even know one of the practical uses of ?

The following shows a very simple step-by-step process to know whether an image or photograph is copyrighted.

  • 1. Download or save the photograph or image you want to investigate. See image below.



  • 4. You may then see results.


Note: This is also an effective way to check/probe fake Facebook accounts or fake profile pictures.

The winning entry was first posted on Flickr.
The winning entry was first posted on Flickr.

Mr. Solis is a repeat-plagiarist. 

Here’s a report from Rappler:

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.

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.

The website of the International Association of Political Science Students reveals Solis served as a probationary legislative staff of Senator Pia Cayetano.

He was a former probationary staff of a plagiarist in the Senate...
He was a former probationary staff of a plagiarist in the Senate…


Here’s another winning photo he submitted to the  Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.





Is Corruption Motivated by ‘Self-Interest’?

On Winnie Monsod’s Viral ‘Lecture’ Video



  1. Psychopath. We are lucky that he’s not the serial killer type. Unfortunately, people will eventually move on and forget about this. Five to ten years from now, he would have already lied his way to a job where will be in charge of people.

    I hope UP can stop the countles people who will be harmed by this psychopath by stripping him of his most likely earned through plagiarized materials and therefore fake credentials. At least he will not be able to use these to lie and manipulate his way to the top.

    1. He can even lie straight in front of the camera. He said he did this for his family. That is a complete lie. They are well-off, he even used his biological mother to lie for him!

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