Explained: Whats Humans of Bombay, and the controversy around it
Karishma Mehta, founder of Humans of Bombay, in a file photo. Image: Twitter/@Karishma_Mehta5

Explained: What's Humans of Bombay, and the controversy around it

Humans of New York founder hits out at Mumbai-based platform, saying it can’t be suing others over copyright

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A copyright lawsuit filed by Humans of Bombay (HOB), a popular storytelling platform, against People of India (POI), an online portal, has sparked a faceoff between Humans of Bombay (HOB)and Humans of New York (HONY), which is said to have inspired the Mumbai-based platform.

The Delhi High Court on Monday (September 18) issued notice on a plea moved by HOB against “People of India” (POI), seeking to restrain it from appropriating the former’s “unique format of storytelling” and publishing the same to the public. A single judge bench of Justice Prathiba Singh issued notice to the defendant, “POI Social Media Private Ltd”, in Humans of Bombay Stories Private Ltd’s application for interim relief while observing that on the next date of hearing the HC will hear the application.

Meanwhile, HONY founder Brandon Stanton’s Twitter post, slamming HOB, has caught the attention of many social media users, who flayed the HOB for resorting to the legal route. They urged the storytelling company to drop the lawsuit. “Karishma Mehta, this is not done. You must drop the lawsuit. If you’ve taken inspiration from Humans Of New York and they have been kind, you must afford the same liberty to others,” wrote a user.

What is the HOB vs HONY controversy?

Though the case came up for hearing in the Delhi High Court on September 18, the controversy erupted five days later on September 23 when Humans of New York (HONY) founder Brandon Stanton expressed his disappointment with HOB over the issue.

“I’ve stayed quiet on the appropriation of my work because I think @HumansOfBombay shares important stories, even if they’ve monetized far past anything I’d feel comfortable doing on HoNY. But you can’t be suing people for what I've forgiven you for,” Stanton, 39, wrote on X on Saturday.

Subsequently, HOB tweeted a statement to Branton and said he “ought to have equipped himself” with the details of the case and what the company aimed to achieve before “jumping the gun on the matter”.

“It’s therefore shocking that a cryptic assault on our efforts to protect our intellectual property is made in this manner, especially without understanding the background of the case,” the statement read. HOB said it was “all for the power of storytelling and it should be done honestly and ethically”. “We believe in the honourable court of India and will request patience for the law to take its own course after hearing all facts of the matter,” the company further said.

In another post, Humans of Bombay said it is grateful to Brandon for “starting this storytelling movement”. “The suit is related to IP in our posts & not about storytelling at all. We tried to address the issue amicably before approaching the Court, as we believe in protecting our team’s hard work,” it added.

What is Humans of Bombay (HOB)?

Karishma Mehta started Humans of Bombay as a simple Facebook page in 2014 with the intention to tell stories and to connect strangers with the emotion of, ‘You’re not alone’. What began as strangers coming together, is now a community of over 3.2 million people. HOB's Twitter handle is followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Today, HOB boasts of being India’s largest and only storytelling platform that showcases unique, inspirational and relatable stories of individuals from all walks of life. It has gained huge popularity and fan base over the years.

HOB shares photos of individuals from diverse backgrounds, accompanied by short narratives detailing their life experiences. HOB’s stories feature individuals of all ages, genders, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. This is achieved through engaging social media posts and a well-maintained website. The platform is now said to be monetised.

What is Humans of New York (HONY)?

Brandon Stanton initiated Humans of New York as a photography project in 2010. The initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants.

“Somewhere along the way, I began to interview my subjects in addition to photographing them. And alongside their portraits, I'd include quotes and short stories from their lives. Taken together, these portraits and captions became the subject of a vibrant blog,” he writes on his website.

It has gradually evolved into a photoblog and a book of street portraits and interviews collected on the streets of New York. HONY now has over 20 million followers on social media, and provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets of New York City.

What is the case that HOB has filed against POI?

HoB filed a lawsuit against POI, accusing it of copyright infringement. The HOB alleged that POI had replicated its unique storytelling format and published identical content. HOB also claimed that POI had used images and videos from its platform without permission, essentially replicating its business model, including the stories themselves.

HOB further alleged that People of India fully replicated its unique storytelling format and released it to the public. “Consequently, the lawsuit aims to prevent people in India from infringing upon Humans of Bombay’s copyrighted works, including their content, literary works, films, and creative expressions that they have published on their website, Instagram handle, and YouTube channel.”

Moreover, Justice Prathiba M Singh issued notice on Humans of Bombay’s plea seeking interim relief in the suit and listed the matter for hearing on October 11. While perusing the images posted by Humans of Bombay and People of India, Justice Prathiba M Singh noted that, prima facie, there was “substantial imitation” in the content, and that in some cases, the photograph or images were “identical or imitative”.

Advocate Abhishek Malhotra, appearing for HOB, stated that the defendant has started an identical portal/service named People of India, which has identical content. He further argued that the defendant has replicated images/videos from HOB’s platform and has utilised them on its own platform. Referring to a comparative table of some of the images mentioned in the application, Malhotra said that the same would show that the defendant has completely replicated the business model and in some cases the stories themselves.

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