There’s nothing I love more than online drama that has nothing to do with me, especially when the party I like more is clearly winning the argument. So it’s no surprise that my current fixation is the feud between Humans of New York (HONY) founder Brandon Stanton (what a king), and Humans of Bombay (HOB) — a copycat account that is now suing another copycat account for copyright infringes. Oh yes, it’s juicy. Let’s dive in.
Humans of New York (@humansofny), as you probably already know, began as a social media account where photographer and writer Brandon Stanton shares stories of people he interviews in, you guessed it, New York.
The succinct, emotional captions that are posted alongside his beautiful photos of the everyday humans that live in New York (and sometimes the other places he travels to) captured the hearts of people all over the world. The Instagram account now has 12.8 million followers and he has since published a book of his interviews.
Part of the reason people adore Stanton’s work so much is because HONY also functions as a kind of charity — Stanton uses money from the Humans Of New York fund which is paid for by fans to help those he interviews. It’s been life changing for many of his subjects (who often leave comments on his posts thanking him for his help), and it’s just wholesome AF — especially considering he never takes anything from that fund for himself.
Unsurprisingly, the “Humans of ____” format has since been picked up by other writers and photographers (and everyday people) all over the world. There’s even a “Humans of Newtown” Instagram account which is local to Sydney.
One such account is Humans of Bombay (@officialhumansofbombay), a company which has garnered nearly 3 million followers on Instagram at the time of writing.
Humans of Bombay was “founded” by Karishma Mehta in 2014 as a Facebook page and, in the nearly 10 years since it was created, has grown and morphed into a multi-faceted story-telling company.
However, Humans of Bombay — and by extension, Mehta — has come under fire after the company took legal action in the Delhi High Court against “People of India”, another social media account which also tells the stories of everyday citizens of India.
Humans of Bombay accused People of India of copyright infringement, which is a pretty interesting (read: not cool) move given its own account is a copy of Humans of New York, down to the name and format. If anyone is allowed to gatekeep HONY, it’s Stanton — and he’s since weighed in on the case, which is where the drama starts.
“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,” he wrote on X.
“But you can’t be suing people for what I’ve forgiven you for.”
Ooft! Pop off king!
Here’s where things get spicy: Humans of Bombay responded to Brandon Stanton with a brutal statement of its own, and it’s pissed off a *lot* of HONY fans.
“As with the hundreds of Humans of chapters around the world, we love and understand the power of storytelling,” the statement read.
“It’s therefore 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.
“Perhaps, before jumping the gun on this matter, you ought to have equipped yourself with the information about the case and also about what HOB is trying to achieve.”
A “cryptic assault”!!! Surely this wasn’t written by a publicist because it reeks of “I’m angrily typing this into my notes app”.
The Humans of Bombay account then shared its actual court documents to X to back up its assertion that the suit is “related to intellectual property in our posts and not about storytelling”, including screenshots that appear to show the People of India account reposting the exact same images used on the HOB account.
Side note: no one is saying People of India did nothing wrong, or that allegedly reposting someone else’s content without permission is okay — it’s more about the concept of copyright and art.
Stanton didn’t take HOB’s statement lying down and shared his comment to the Washington Post on X, which essentially called out Humans of Bombay not just for the lawsuit, but for the principle of filing one despite the “Humans of” chapters typically not being monetised at all.
“For the last thirteen years I haven’t received a penny for a single story told on Humans of New York, despite many millions offered,” he wrote.
“All my income has come from books of my work, speeches I have given, and Patreon. 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.
“Beautiful art can make money, there is nothing wrong with that. But when art becomes a profit motive, it ceases to become art. And it becomes a product.”
“I welcome anyone who is using the ‘Humans of’ concept to express something true and beautiful about their community. I do not identify with anyone who is using it for the sake of creating a certain lifestyle for themselves,” he concluded.
Unsurprisingly, the internet has rallied in support of Stanton, with some people going as far as to accuse Humans of Bombay of being an “insult” to HONY’s concept. Others slammed it for sharing fundraisers for middle-to-upper class Indians who wanted their studies at Harvard paid for by the public. Yikes.
It is an inspiring concept, “Humans of” – inspired by you, we did a short run within our company internal network about “Humans of Nagarro”.— Vaibhav Gadodia (@whoisvaibhav) September 26, 2023
Can’t understand how someone can claim copyright on an art form.
Other interviews have also been resurfaced amidst the drama of HOB’s founder slamming claims she is “privileged”. She said she is “fully self-made” despite the fact that she started HOB with a loan from her father (and also has parents who funded her university education abroad), and said you can’t hate on someone for taking advantage of their class privilege, lol. It’s a doozy, you can watch it below.
Founder of HOB ‘Privileged’ went abroad to study, copied everything of HONY and pasted it in Mumbai pic.twitter.com/ipFc9HFmN0— Garv (ਗਰਵਿਤ) (@imgarvmalik) September 24, 2023
A Reddit thread about the scandal accused Humans of Bombay of “monetising people’s misery” which is a thought-provoking way of putting it. Others slammed it as “poverty porn”.
In a separate thread, some users claimed they tried to submit stories to the account but were told they were not “sad enough”.
“I once reached out to HOB for a story on my special needs sister who was on life support at a pvt hospital, ran out of funds and seeing my parents as a 15 year old I did it out of desperation,” one commenter alleged.
“I sent bills, photos, what not when they asked me for verification. Didn’t get a response, months later, I get a mail saying my story isn’t sad enough.”
Others resurfaced HOB’s 2019 rate card and slammed what they saw as an exorbitant rate it charged for a post.
Since then, The Juggernaut, a digital publication about South Asian diaspora, shared allegations from people who claimed to be former employees of HOB (the company has around 40 staff, according to an interview with Mehta) who alleged they were told to “fabricate” stories for the business.
Needless to say, the HOB empire is crumbling before our very eyes, and I’m loving every second of the drama.