In the era of digital media and social storytelling platforms, the copyright dispute between Humans of Bombay (HoB) and People of India (PoI) has emerged as a focal point for discussions on copyright law in India. At the core of the issue is HoB’s claim that PoI has essentially copied their storytelling approach. This article provides an in-depth analysis of the case, the court’s verdict, and its implications for the future of copyright in India’s digital era.

The parties to the Matter

Humans of Bombay (Petitioner) is a well-known storytelling platform that originated in 2014. It has garnered significant recognition for its unique and personal approach to sharing stories of individuals. HoB conducts in-depth interviews, writes posts, and creates audio-visual content to present the lives and experiences of various people. 

People of India (Defendant) is another storytelling platform, with a significant presence on social media. The platform is known for sharing stories about common people, much like HoB. PoI’s approach to storytelling is similar to HoB, aiming to offer an intimate look into the lives of individuals across India

Significant Imitation

Copyright protection extends to tangible expressions of creative works like literature, photos, and videos, but it doesn’t cover abstract ideas. Instead, it focuses on safeguarding the specific way those ideas are expressed. In this case, Humans of Bombay (HoB) argued that People of India (PoI) engaged in what they call “significant imitation” of their content. In their initial evaluation, the court identified this “significant imitation” between the two platforms. However, what qualifies as “significant imitation” isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition; it often depends on the quality of the copied elements rather than the quantity. For instance, even a short phrase or a memorable part of a song can be considered a breach of copyright if it’s substantially copied without permission.

Copyright Infringement & remedies

Copyright infringement occurs when a substantial part of a copyrighted work is used without permission. When infringement happens, the copyright owner has the legal right to take action against the party responsible. The possible actions include injunctions, damages, and accounts. An injunction is a court-issued order to stop the infringing activity.

In the case at hand, Humans of Bombay (HoB) requested an injunction to prevent People of India (PoI) from using their copyrighted materials, which encompass literary works, films, and creative content posted on their Instagram and YouTube platforms. It’s important to understand that an injunction alone doesn’t automatically correct all instances of infringement. To address this, the copyright owner might need to issue takedown orders to online intermediaries like Google to remove the infringing content.

The Concept of Passing Off

Apart from the copyright issue, Humans of Bombay (HoB) has brought up the concept of “passing off.” Passing off is when one party tries to benefit from another’s established reputation in a particular business by using deceptive methods. It involves misrepresentation and can harm the original entity’s reputation.

In this case, HoB claims that People of India (PoI) engaged in passing off and unfair competition. They argue that PoI knowingly shared content that was either identical or very similar to HoB’s work. By doing this, PoI seemed to be taking advantage of the reputation HoB had built over the years. This adds complexity to the legal dispute, as it involves issues of fairness and deception.

The Court’s Verdict 

The decision reached by the Delhi High Court in this case holds significant importance. It serves as a reminder of a fundamental principle within copyright law, which is that ideas, by themselves, are not eligible for copyright protection. Instead, what the law safeguards is the specific and unique way in which those ideas are expressed. The court’s ruling underscores the importance of distinguishing between abstract concepts and their tangible forms in creative works.

In this particular case, the court recognized that the concept of storytelling is not a novel one. It acknowledged that both People of India (PoI) and Humans of Bombay (HoB) drew inspiration from Humans of New York (HoNY), another platform that specializes in storytelling. The court’s perspective on this matter highlights that the mere idea of storytelling cannot be claimed as exclusive intellectual property.

Moreover, the court emphasized that neither platform, HoB nor PoI, had the right to use the copyrighted works of the other. This encompassed a broad spectrum of creative elements, including literary works, photographs, videos, and the distinctive presentation styles that define each platform’s unique approach to storytelling.

An essential aspect of the court’s ruling lies in its clarification regarding private images submitted by individuals. The court explicitly stated that such images could not be protected by copyright on any platform. The copyright for these images inherently belongs to the individuals who provided them. This delineation is crucial as it establishes a boundary between what can and cannot be claimed as copyright-protected content in the context of social media and storytelling platforms.

The Future of Copyright in India’s Digital Era

This case raises pertinent questions about the scope of copyright protection in India’s digital era. It highlights the necessity for a careful examination of the originality of expression, substantial similarity between works, and the level of creativity involved in presenting shared subject matter. Furthermore, the court’s decision not to impose an injunction against PoI’s activities while the case is under scrutiny underscores the complexities of addressing copyright disputes in the digital realm.

In conclusion, the copyright dispute between Humans of Bombay and People of India is a landmark case that delves into the core of intellectual property rights and the intricacies of copyright law in the age of social media. As the case progresses, it will be closely monitored by legal scholars, content creators, and copyright enthusiasts, establishing significant precedents for the protection of creative works in India’s digital landscape.