Humans of Bombay (HOB), a popular social media platform made headlines last weekend after it filed a lawsuit against a similar online storytelling portal called 'People of India' (PoI) over copyright infringement, which many criticised as 'hypocritical'.
What followed next was a debate over how the Mumbai-based platform was using art with a profit motive in sharp contrast to Humans of New York, which HOB is said to have been inspired by. While these three platforms tell stories of people in interview and post with pictures formats, the major point of difference lies in the way the funds from the project are used.
How did the controversy begin?
The controversy began when Humans of Bombay filed a lawsuit against People of India alleging that the latter had replicated its "unique" storytelling format and published identical content. People of India had used images and videos from its platform without permission, the Mumbai-based platform alleged. The Delhi High Court issued a notice to People of India on September 18. Justice Prathiba Singh observed that there seemed to be "substantial imitations" and in some cases, the photos were identical. The case has been posted for hearing on October 11.
While many netizens online criticised HOB for being 'hypocritical', as its own platform replicates the storytelling format of HONY, the latter's founder Brandon Stanton also joined in in calling out the Indian platform. "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 posted on X.
He further said, "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."
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. https://t.co/0jZM05YyTt— Brandon Stanton (@humansofny) September 23, 2023
Responding to Brandon, HOB said they were "shocked" at the "cryptic assault" on their efforts to protect their intellectual property. In another post, HOB said, "We are grateful to HONY and Brandon for starting this storytelling movement. This suit is related to the IP in our posts and not about storytelling at all."
In a fresh statement on Monday, Stanton said he welcomed anyone using the concept "to express something true and beautiful about their community" but did not identify with anyone using it "to create a certain lifestyle for themselves".
In an interview to an Indian YouTube channel earlier this year, HOB founder Karishma Mehta said the platform functioned as a business that ran on advertisements and also collaborated with brands like Amazon, WhatsApp and Unilever for their campaigns. The popular page offers clients the opportunity to be featured on its posts in return for a fee.
In contrast, HONY and Stanton are known for using the platform to raise funds for some of the people the page profiles and for other causes like hurricane victims in the US and Rohingya refugees. In 2022, the New York Magazine notably called him a "one-man philanthropy machine".
In 2019, months before the Lok Sabha elections, HOB faced backlash for running a five-part interview of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in which he talked about his childhood, his family and his ascent to power, among other things. Many criticised the platform for spreading propaganda for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.