In a recent turn of events, Humans of Bombay and People of India have found themselves at legal crossroads so intense, that the internet could not help but troll the parties involved for the hypocrisy and absurdity of the issue at hand. One cannot help but wonder how the issue turned from a simple legal dispute to a courtroom drama. The things which make the case so farcical is the fact that quintessentially, the dispute is about copyright infringement over photographing other human beings !
In a nutshell, Humans of Bombay (HOB) is a popular social media page which posts interviews and photographs of human beings from Bombay. People of India (POI) is a similar social media page which follows a similar format by interviewing people from India. Although one might say that POI is trying to copy HOB, it is worth mentioning that HOB itself has taken inspiration from Humans of New York which was created by Brandon Stanton. One might think that the concept is simple, however, HOB approached the Delhi High Court for injunction to prevent infringement of their copyrighted material by POI. The internet could not help but churn out the memes after Brandon tweeted stating that he is not comfortable with the extent to which HOB has monetized his concept, but HOB cannot be suing someone for something which he has forgiven them for!
HOB’s decision to approach the High Court in Delhi instead of Bombay High Court is also an interesting one, considering the fact that HOB operates from Mumbai. Perhaps because HOB thought it would be easier to get an injunction from Delhi compared to Bombay. The epic copyright duel primarily focused on HOB claiming that there is substantial imitation by POI who is plagiarising HOB’s content. The line between inspiration and imitation is quite blurred, and this case might serve as a foundation for similar cases in the future or not.
Perhaps the thing which makes this dispute so ironic is the fact that both HOB and POI have a similar modus operandi, i.e., humanizing the faceless humans that make up Bombay or India. However, instead of using the platform and their resources to help share important stories, the parties have locked heads in a legal battle, like two artists’ arguing over who owns the rights to the colour green. In the midst of this ridiculous battle, the memes kept flooding on the internet just like the monsoon rains in Mumbai, with some netizens calling out HOB’s hypocrisy.
HOB, through its altruistic tone and “innovative” storytelling, gives the impression that the brand or the platform thinks of itself as a champion of the common man, but at the same time one cannot ignore the fact that the same platform comes up with ways to monetize the concept altogether and takes liberties with the narratives of stories told to them.
As the anticipated courtroom drama came to its logical conclusion, the Delhi High Court stated that the idea at its core is of a storytelling platform and that there can be no monopoly over the running of such a platform. The High Court also held that neither party would be entitled to replicate or imitate each other’s content and images. Essentially, both platforms can continue to operate independently without infringing each other’s content. In a surprising turn of events, HOB released a statement claiming that Delhi High Court passed a permanent injunction on POI, which to even an untrained eye looks like a bad PR move.
The fact that HOB has been trolled relentlessly for the sheer absurdity of commercialising an idea beyond the original scope intended by the original creator of the concept, and the hypocritical narrative that HOB fought the case to defend the rights of creator community, leaves a bad taste in any prudent person’s mind. One thing is for certain, that even if this was not a good case for copyright infringement, it was definitely a PR nightmare for HOB. So, the moral of the story is, if you are a human of Bombay or human of India, rest assured you are a legal entity, albeit not a copyrightable one. And if you ever decide on letting ‘storytellers’ photograph you, be cautious and steer clear from terms like ‘humans’, ‘people’ or ‘India’ to avoid getting attached as an Exhibit-A in a copyright infringement suit, which is more convoluted than the stories on platforms like HOB.