There are three people in this story: Humans of Bombay, People of India, and Humans of New York. All of them —with Humans of New York being the pioneer— share stories of people, their struggles, and their successes on social media.
About a week ago, the founder of Humans of Bombay, Karishma Mehta, filed a case of plagiarism against People of India saying that the latter had copied the concept, style, content, and even the photographs of her initiative. However, Brandon Stanton, a former trader of bonds and photographer, jumped into this controversy and reminded Mehta that the Humans of Bombay was based on the Humans of New York founded by him, reminding her that he had remained quiet on the appropriation of his work.
The lawsuit by Mehta accused People of India and its founder Drishti Saxena of replicating its unique storytelling format and copying the content. This plagiarism controversy between Mehta and Saxena has started a debate on the intellectual property rights of those in the digital space. The issue has been discussed at length on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), with Mehta coming under severe criticism for the copyright infringement suit. The suit claimed that People of India had used images and videos of Humans of Bombay without their explicit permission.
On September 18, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to People of India. During the hearing of the case, Justice Pratibha Singh pointed out substantial imitations including the photographs which are identical. The next hearing is scheduled for October 11. Right after this lawsuit, Stanton's post on X called out Humans of Bombay for appropriating his work: “I have stayed quiet on the appropriation of my work because I think @HumansOfBombay shares important stories. Even if they have monetized far past anything I’d feel comfortable doing on HONY. But you cannot be suing people for what I’ve forgiven you for.”
Mehta was mercilessly trolled by users of various social media platforms. One post says, “Humans of Bombay has sued People of India for copying Human of New York, who they copied first. That’s like Abibas fighting with Abidas to decide who’s the real fake Adidas.”
In a statement issued by Humans of Bombay to Stanton, they say that he should have equipped himself with all the facts of the case. “It’s shocking that a cryptic assault on our efforts to protect our intellectual property is made in this manner, especially without understanding the background of the case.”
Even as this controversy gathered much speed in the plummet, an old video of Meha surfaced in which Mehta says the idea of Humans of Bombay “came out of the blue”.
“Completely, randomly and out of the blue, I stumbled upon the idea of Humans of Bombay and I started it. And it clicked. That period was a high of its own to start something new,” says Mehta in the video.
Mehta further says, “HOB is all for the power of storytelling, but it should be done honestly and ethically.” In a later statement by the Humans of Bombay, they thanked HONY and Brandon for starting the storytelling movement. “The suit is related to the IP in our posts and not about storytelling at all,” says the second statement.
Meanwhile, Debra Barraud, the founder of Humans of Amsterdam, in a statement travelled down memory lane lending credit to Humans of New York for their inspirational stories. In her statement, Barraud says, “I did not want to monetize any of my stories as I felt it would damage the soul of the project. I want Humans of Amsterdam to maintain its credibility and I can’t achieve that if my voice is paid for.”
Outlook reached out to Mehta through calls and text messages, but received no response.
Industrial sources say that this controversy will affect the branding and corporate partnerships of Humans of Bombay. In a July 2023 interview with Raj Samtani, Mehta mentioned that an estimated 60 per cent of the revenue of her company comes from brand integrations. The Humans of Bombay has collaborated with the likes of HUL, Amazon, Google, and Meta, which brought in a revenue of Rs 6.78 crore in the fiscal 2021-2022. The profit for this fiscal stood at Rs 3.2 crore.