In recent events, Humans of Bombay (HoB), a popular online platform known for its heart-warming human-interest stories, has found itself embroiled in a heated copyright infringement dispute. The controversy unfolded when HoB filed a lawsuit against another Indian storytelling portal, People of India (PoI), alleging content imitation. The lawsuit has sparked a wave of criticism and debate, even drawing the attention of Humans of New York (HoNY) founder Brandon Stanton.
Karishma Mehta, a graduate in economics and business, started Humans of Bombay in 2014. This Instagram and Facebook-based platform was envisioned as a space to document the stories of ordinary Mumbaikars, encapsulating the city’s vibrant diversity of humanity. She began to receive flak after she filed a lawsuit against ‘People of India’ in the Delhi High Court over alleged “copyright infringement.”
Humans of New York Chips In
Brandon Stanton, the creator of HoNY, known for capturing the essence of New York City through photographs and anecdotes, entered the fray. Stanton’s page has been celebrated worldwide for its captivating photographs and concise narratives, offering glimpses into the lives of New Yorkers. It rapidly gained a massive following, becoming a global phenomenon and earning Stanton both acclaim and book deals. In a tweet, Stanton expressed his disappointment over HoB’s decision to sue PoI, saying, “I’ve stayed quiet on the appropriation of my work because I think Humans Of Bombay 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’s tweet stirred a global conversation about the ethics of storytelling, intellectual property, and the fine line between inspiration and imitation in the digital age. Many social media users called on HoB to reconsider its legal action, with some accusing the platform of hypocrisy for allegedly emulating the HoNY format while pursuing copyright infringement claims.
Response by Humans of Bombay
In response to Stanton’s criticism, HoB issued an open letter, published on X, addressing the issue. The letter expressed shock at what it called Stanton’s “cryptic assault” on their efforts to protect their intellectual property, suggesting that he had not fully understood the case’s background. HoB clarified that the lawsuit aimed to protect their team’s hard work, particularly in preventing the replication of images and videos from their platform, and was not about storytelling per se.
The controversy spilled over into social media as users began to scrutinize Mehta’s background and statements about the genesis of Humans of Bombay. A video featuring Mehta discussing her privilege and how she started the platform with a loan of 1 Lakh rupees came under scrutiny and led to more trolling on the internet. There has yet to be an official statement from People of India.
Blurry Lines Between Good Faith & Business
This isn’t the first time that HoB has come under the scanner. In the past, people have raised concerns about the page charging hefty sums like 10-15 lakhs for each post on its page. Stanton, too, raised the issue of art being monetized by HoB, and people resonated with his concern.
This controversy raises important questions about the evolution of digital storytelling and the ethical responsibilities of content creators. While storytelling is a powerful tool for sharing diverse human experiences, it also necessitates careful consideration of ethical boundaries and the protection of intellectual property.