Music, Fashion and Portrait Photography in London

Sony World Photography Awards – Plagiarism or Coincidence?

It was a beautiful spring morning, and I was reading the paper on the train. There was a feature about the Sony World Photography Awards, accompanied by some stunning pictures. One of them in particular caught my eye…

Natural History Museum by Marek Troszczynski is a very interesting photo. It’s interesting to me because it looks remarkably similar to one of my own photos:

Natural History Museum Main Hall

Natural History Museum Main Hall by Jamie Gladden 2007

I was trying to figure out how I felt about this. Should I be shocked that someone could steal my idea? Should I be concerned that it’s hard to come up with something original and I’m just being derivative like everyone else. Or (most likely) should I be thinking, Damn! Why didn’t I enter that myself?

Reading further down on the WPO site, there are several comments below Marek’s photo. It seems some people are actually accusing him of plagiarism. The main complaint is coming from a guy called Nobuyuki Taguchi, who asserts that Marek has stolen his intellectual property by taking that photograph. You can read for yourself what Nobuyuki had to say, and compare the photographs in question on Nobuyuki’s site here:

You want to know what I think? I’m not convinced by any of this… OK, I read Nobuyuki’s complaint, and looked at his comparison of the photos, and sure, they’re similar, but they’re not identical. It seems to be two similar black and white shots, taken from the same position, about a year or so apart. Is that plagiarism? I don’t think it is. In fact my photo and Marek’s are a closer match. Should I be accusing him of plagiarism? I don’t think so.

Nobuyuki complains that since he took his photo first, Marek must have copied him, and he must have seen it, because it’s been published. So, does that also mean that since I took my photo in 2007, and uploaded it to flickr, that I can also accuse Nobuyuki of plagiarism? No. If I did that, then you know there will be 10 people who complain to me, saying that they’ve got a similar shot, taken years before I got mine. As I noted in the comments on the flickr page, that spot was pretty popular on the day I was there, and there was even a queue of people lining up to take the same shot – and I went on a quiet day. If we take this to it’s logical conclusion, then the first photographer to point their camera in a certain direction at a given location will own all future rights to any photograph taken there, like planting a flag on the moon. If that’s the case, then it’s time to put your cameras down, as Google will have sewn up pretty much all exterior photography with their Streetview cars.

I don’t think you can expect to go to any tourist attraction in a major city and take a photograph that isn’t in some way similar to what’s been done before. Does that mean we’re all guilty of plagiarism?

No, it doesn’t.

UPDATE: 25/03/2011
I spoke to a representative of the WPO, as I was interested to know their position on this issue. Here’s what Astrid Merget, Creative Director of the World Photography Organisation, had to say:

“Plagiarism is a very complicated issue in the world of photography and one that the World Photography Organisation (which organises the awards) takes very seriously – especially as we have so many photographers entering the competition each year, and thousands who make their living from photography.

WPO has investigated the claims made, consulted the judging panel for this year and been in touch with both the photographer making the claim and our winning photographer. The result of the investigation shows that the claim is unfounded and at this point there is no evidence of intended plagiarism, thus the matter is closed. WPO supports their winning photographer Marek Troszczynski and is delighted to have awarded him the prize.”


2 Responses to “Sony World Photography Awards – Plagiarism or Coincidence?”

  1. Very good post and great attitude! I think Mareks shot is different in many small details that make it original. Subject is the same but the underlying composition formed by the light and dark areas is completely different. And at the end of the day – if one is capable of making shots that can be copied and made award winners why not go and make some more instead of complaining.

  2. Hi Eric, thanks for posting your comment. If you look at all the photos (mine included), I agree, there are differences between them. The standout one for me though is the lack of people in Marek’s photo, and since this is a photograph of architecture, he’s letting the building speak for itself.

    In my photo, there are a couple of people right in the middle of the frame, and they stand out a little. In Nobuyuki’s photo, there are lots of people, and for me, his photo is more about how these people are interacting with the space. Marek’s photo has none of these distractions (OK, there are a couple of people, but they’re not so easy to spot), and that’s what gives it the edge in terms of it being a pure architecture shot.