Over the weekend, ‘Humans Of Bombay‘, a renowned online storytelling platform, got embroiled in a heated controversy after it sued ‘People of India’, another storytelling platform with a similar initiative, for copyright infringement. One thing led to another, and now there’s a growing backlash against the HOB’s business model, the very nature of which contradicts their case.
Here’s all that has happened till now:
Humans of Bombay sues People of India
Earlier this month, ‘Humans of Bombay’ (HOB) filed a lawsuit seeking ‘injunction restraining infringement of copyright of its copyrighted content‘ against ‘People of India’ (POI) for replicating their business model and stories.
Advocate Abhishek Malhotra, representing the case of Humans of Bombay, claimed People of India did not just copy HOB’s content but also “knowingly and deliberately, published content that is identical or substantially similar to the popular Content comprised of Plaintiffs Works in an attempt to ride on goodwill that has been painstakingly built by the Plaintiff”, reports The Indian Express.
The imitative claims also include the appropriation of HOB’s images and videos on POI’s social media platforms.
A single-judge bench of Justice Prathiba Singh from Delhi High Court took action on the plea and issued a notice to POI.
Humans of New York‘s creator’s reaction
Humans of New York’s (HONY) creator Brandon Stanton then reacted to the news, expressing his shock at HOB for suing another portal for appropriation when their business model itself is a replica of HONY.
Now, this tweet is particularly relevant given Humans of Bombay basically appears like an Indian edition of Humans of New York and has largely remained uncredited. While HONY has stayed true to its purpose, the nature of the content on HOB has gradually become a subject of concern amongst its readers.
I’ve always loved @HumansofAdam because Debra has stayed so true to the art, and has never viewed the stories that she shares as the “front end” of a business— Brandon Stanton (@humansofny) September 23, 2023
Public backlash against Humans of Bombay
Naturally, Brandon’s tweet was quick to go viral, and people online criticised HOB for the hypocritical nature of their case, for frequently promoting glossed-over commercialised stories, and in turn, taking away from the essence of storytelling as an art in a bid to mint money.
Here are some of the things people pointed out:
I get being quiet for the good of the format but @HumansOfBombay has repeatedly platformed vile fascists in order to humanise them to the upper classes, while treating the stories of the underprivileged with a vouyeristic lens.— Lightninging In A Bottle (@FullFatYoghurt) September 23, 2023
It is garbage and needs to die. https://t.co/QAUxgWxxob
HONY established in year 2010 and become a global rage for its style of storytelling and HOB started in 2014.— Kumar Manish (@kumarmanish9) September 24, 2023
The founder studied economics and business in Nottingham, UK and it is hard to believe that she never heard or googled HONY 😝pic.twitter.com/9sZnWaMsiL
Not only did HOB take something so raw and pure to create a cringe fest, full of privileged stories aimed at monetizing every piece, but they consistently manage to peddle their 'holier than thou' complex.— Divtesh Singh (@DivteshSingh) September 23, 2023
And it's getting called out, finally. https://t.co/r1TW3PIw7X
Brandon himself calling out the scum that @HumansOfBombay is – thank you. Repurposing an entity meant for the stories of refugees, families separated by wars and the likes into something so commercially ugly – you lot deserve it. Also, crowdfunding privileged brats? Shame on you. https://t.co/p1qT2ozdRi— Ujyant Ramesh (@ujyant29) September 23, 2023
When I first saw "Humans of Bombay " page ,I thought it was an Indian official chapter of "Humans of Newyork" .Later I came to realise that it was a rip off of the original. And now the suit they have filed against another page and that stupid letter to Brandon.Their audacity is… https://t.co/lE6rTpdZsI— Shalin Maria Lawrence (@TheBluePen25) September 23, 2023
Humans of Bombay calls Brandon’s tweet a ‘cryptic assault’
After Brandon’s tweet went viral, HOB released a statement stating they were shocked at his “cryptic assault” without the background knowledge of the case.
The statement, naturally, left many unimpressed and further added to the outrage against HOB.
Adibas telling Adidas they're "shocked" and that one shouldn't blame them for suing Abidas 😭 https://t.co/5tPKukH6R2— June Paul (@journojuno) September 23, 2023
There was always something distasteful about these folks.— Ashish K. Mishra (@akm1410) September 23, 2023
It is not the appropriation of the original idea of HONY that put me off, but this constant urge to pass themselves as original somehow. It just left a bad taste. Not surprised they are turning out to be far worse. https://t.co/URzlw5wg8V
HOB founder’s old comments on ‘privilege’ re-surface
A few months back, in an interview with Raj Shamani, HOB Founder Karishma Mehta talked about people tying her ‘self-made’ journey to her privilege.
“I am privileged”, she said. “I come from a family that invested a lot in my education. But beyond that, I’m fully self-made. Humans Of Bombay started with a ₹1 Lakh loan from my father, which has been repaid, and we’re bootstrapped.”
Please don’t call HOB founder privileged henceforth please pic.twitter.com/eQ2is0lkWc— Ana De Friesmass ver 2.0 (@ka_fries2366) July 20, 2023
“I didn’t piss away the degree, and I didn’t piss away what was invested into me and the values that were given to me that you have to make something of your own. I work really hard, so you can’t use that tag against me.”
She was called out for failing to account for how her generational wealth, caste privilege, and social capital profoundly benefited her education and ‘self-made’ journey.
Reminds me of this very humble SA who was sent to oxbridge. Daddy ji gave him clients uncle ji gave him relief. But beyond that he is fully self made. He works very hard so you can’t use that “privilege” tag against him. Can we ever have our HOB moment in legal industry? 🤣🤣 🥂 https://t.co/oefX5uVuK8— jimmytwotimes (@mistertwotimes) September 24, 2023
In the midst of online chaos, HOB publishes legal documents regarding the case, claiming they’re fighting against appropriation of their IP and not against storytelling as an art.
We are grateful to HONY & Brandon for starting this storytelling movement.— Humans Of Bombay (@HumansOfBombay) September 24, 2023
The suit is related to the 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.
However, people are not convinced of HOB’s motivation behind the case. The popular opinion is that stories sourced from the public shouldn’t have to be anybody else’s IP apart from the person themselves. And to call out Brandon for speaking the right thing only worsens their stance.
On 99% of occasions when people say IP/intellectual property, they say it so that, without being pinned down to its constituent categories, they can communicate a good faith understanding of originality and creation.— Eashan Ghosh (@eashanghosh) September 24, 2023
This is not one of those occasions. https://t.co/iwPUjC87hA
this is so cute, they're seeking copyright over sourcing the stories? ("completely replicated the Plaintiff’s business model as also the stories— Nivedita (@Nivivacious) September 24, 2023
themselves… Defendants are approaching the
very same subjects.. in order to
create an imitative platform.") https://t.co/NNnFDzMz7g
You HAVE to be grateful to Brandon. Apni dukaan chaalane ke liye uska idea dhapa. You guys are plain lucky he isn't suing the living hell out of you leeches. https://t.co/5vo6fIkSje— Bandkhor Future Aamdaar A 🇮🇳 (@AdvanceDexter) September 25, 2023
By showing people’s stories, how does it becomes your IP ?— Larry Potter (@harrypotter0820) September 24, 2023
The actual IP is with the original person itself. If they use your video content on their page then also you can crib, but this is laughable
It means if once you tell story on virat kohli, no one else can replicate it? https://t.co/dN5WdGDYCb
They’re identical/imitative but the people can share their stories to any number of platforms,no1 owns the intellectual property.— sreekanth (@EskayWrites) September 24, 2023
This is just going to end up as bad PR.
Let the stories be told,as many times as possible if it can make us a better human&the world a better place. https://t.co/N8EbcPBA9I
Initially, you asserted ownership over people's stories as 'intellectual property,' but when you realized Brandon might take legal action, you began justifying your actions. Simply acknowledge your arrogance! #HONY https://t.co/9StxCxqg1C— Irfan Ahmad (@IAhmad068) September 24, 2023
Amid the controversy, the HOB founder has also made her Instagram account private. The next hearing is scheduled for October 11.