Humans of Bombay, People of India can't copy each other's work: Delhi High Court [11.10.2023]

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday said storytelling platforms Humans of Bombay and People of India cannot copy each other’s copyrighted material but ruled that there is “no copyright on an idea”.

Justice Prathiba M Singh said that if the “expression” of an idea was imitated or copied it would qualify for copyright infringement.

“Both the platforms, that is Humans of Bombay and People of India, shall refrain from using each other’s copyrighted works that is, commissioned photographs, literary works such as interviews and original pieces written by their own authors, any videos that have been commissioned by themselves and the manner of presentation that has been adopted by the platforms in respect of a particular subject or individual,” the court said.

It added that as far as an individual’s own photographs from their own private collection were concerned, there could be no copyright claim by either of the platforms.

Humans of Bombay is a storytelling platform that features photo blogs of people living in Mumbai; it was started in 2014 by Karishma Mehta, inspired by photographer Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York that was four years older.

Humans of Bombay had sued People of India for appropriating its films, literary works, unique format of storytelling, creative expression and presentation of storyboard.

The court, while hearing the case in September, had sent a summons to People of India asking it to file a response.

After media reports of the case surfaced, Stanton stepped in and posted on X(formerly Twitter), “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.”

This sparked a huge reaction from netizens and several accounts pointed out that HoB had itself copied the idea of storytelling from HoNY. Some accounts also dug up Mehta’s old videos in which she said that she had just stumbled upon the idea of HoB out of the blue.

HoNY’s Stanton also said he admired the Humans of Amsterdam project(with the same storytelling format as HoNY) because its creator does not treat people's stories as 'the front end of a business'.

HoB hit back that day on X saying, "Perhaps, before jumping the gun on this matter, you ought to have equipped yourself with information about the case.”

After this Stanton released a statement saying, “I cannot provide an informed opinion on the intricacies of copyright law, but I do have an opinion on what it means to be an artist….But, when art begins with a profit motive, it ceases to become art.”

PoI in its response on Wednesday argued in court that HoB could not claim copyright over the concept of a storytelling platform because both platforms(HoB and PoI) were inspired by the HoNY model.

The Court, however, said that the main issue was not who had the original idea but whether either party had copied each other’s content. PoI had also claimed that HoB had copied some of their images.

PoI also said that when subjects(people whose stories are told) themselves had sent them their images, a case of copyright infringement could not be claimed by HoB.

The Court said that while there is no monopoly in running a story-telling platform, all platforms ought to adopt their own creative expression to tell their stories.

"If any photographs are commissioned, the copyright in the said photographs would vest in the platform. Similarly, if any videos are produced, the copyright in the said videos would vest in the platform themselves and they would qualify as cinematograph works," the court stated.

After the case, Mehta released a statement saying, “Humans of Bombay is a business; that's something we have never hidden. While some may choose to monetize stories through mediums like books and subscription platforms, we have chosen to do it primarily through meaningful campaigns with partner brands. To this date, what motivates me and my team to work extremely hard is our love for storytelling - because we've witnessed how the stories we've told over the last 10 years have had a lasting cultural impact."

12 Oct 2023