Strange but true: the Facebook plagiarism row

Holding a cameraHow likely do you think it is that two photographs would be completely identical in every respect? Not very, you might answer! But in this strange but true tale, we discover that it is possible for two people to take an identical shot that is indistinguishable in every detail.

The story starts with Sarah Scurr in 2006, who boarded as cruise from Puerto Montt in southern Chile to the San Rafael Glacier in the Northern Patagonian Ice Field.

Upon her arrival, Sarah snapped a number of photographs including this little gem:


She did nothing with the beautiful shot until 2009 when she moved back to the UK and entered her gorgeous picture into The Telegraph’s Big Picture photography competition.

Unsurprisingly her picture was named among the best of the week to her delight.

But some six years later, it was this achievement that landed Sarah in hot water. Sarah, now 29 and living in The Hague – suddenly found herself on the receiving end of string of allegations claiming that she had breached copyright.

The allegations came from Marisol Ortiz Elfeldt, a Chilean reporter and amateur photographer herself who was so certain that Sarah had stolen her picture, she publicly denounced Sarah on Telegraph Travel’s Facebook page and at the same time posted up her own “non-Photoshopped original” picture as proof. Take a look:


By some amazing coincidence, every detail of these two beautiful pictures is exactly the same. Even the cloud formation looks extremely similar.

Given how both photographs do indeed look like the same edited shot, you can understand why Marisol felt so upset about the whole ordeal. Before long, her sympathisers started to send Sarah messages, mainly in Spanish, insulting her and accusing her of theft.

The Telegraph intervened and both Sarah and Marisol were invited to supply their originals. According to the metadata, both were taken on the same day. However, on close inspection of both pictures, a very slight difference in perspective was detected which is entirely consistent with a moving boat.

This shows that both pictures were indeed taken on the same day but a few seconds apart.

Marisol sent an email to Telegraph Travel, explaining:

“As incredible as it may seem, it looks like Sarah and I shared the same boat while visiting the glaciers in 2006. Once I saw the picture, which looks exactly like mine, I really thought it was the one I took that day – but it seems that she actually was there, right next to me, clicking almost at the same time.”

Sarah was of course happy to be vindicated and responded:

“It’s a bizarre coincidence and I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often,” said Scurr. “You’ve got hundreds of people staring at landmarks or landscapes, all taking the same picture on their smartphone or camera. Hopefully, should anyone else find themselves in the same position, they will think twice before making public accusations. I’m delighted they’ve been proven to be false – I’m not a plagiarist.”

Below, you can see the difference between the two photographs:



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