Humans of Bombay Case: No Monopoly Over Storytelling Idea

In its order dated October 11, 2023, the Delhi High Court dispelled all speculations, emphasising that in the current case, the primary focus was on a storytelling platform (the idea), and no monopoly could be claimed over the idea.[1] Therefore, there can be no restraint on such a platform being run. Nevertheless, the Court clarified that the expression of ideas and the content forming that expression fall under the purview of copyright.

Last month, the plaintiff, Humans of Bombay Stories Pvt. Ltd., filed a suit before the Delhi High Court alleging that the defendants replicated its stories, thereby infringing upon the plaintiff’s copyright over its content, including photographs, literary works, films, and creative expressions published on its website and social media platforms. In its interim order dated September 18, 2023, the Court observed that prima facie, there was “substantial imitation”, and in some instances, the images were “identical or imitative” (click here to read our detailed analysis on the subject).

When the matter came up for hearing on October 11, 2023, the defendants contended that the plaintiff’s platform was not unique and listed down a number of platforms (including Humans of New Amsterdam, Humans of Delhi, etc.), all of which were based on that of Humans of New York. With respect to the replication of images, it was maintained that the images were received from the subjects themselves. Additionally, the defendants presented a series of screenshots depicting that the plaintiff had copied certain images posted by the defendants on their website.

The Court extracted relevant paragraphs from the judgments of the Supreme Court in Eastern Book Company and Ors.  v. D.B Modak and Anr.[2] and R.G. Anand v. M/s. Delux Films and Ors.[3] to clarify that copyright law protected not the original idea but the expression of thought, the imitation of which would constitute copyright infringement under Section 51 of the Copyright Act, 1957. Hence, the Single Judge Bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh stated that there could be “no monopoly” over the running of the storytelling platforms. At the same time, the creative ways utilised by the platforms to communicate and disseminate the stories of the individuals would constitute the “expression” that is protected under copyright law.

It was observed that there could be various justifications for the parties to replicate each other’s images, such as “common source, common subject, common settings where the image is clicked etc.” Further, the Court cleared the air by specifying that copyright in the photographs and videos would “vest” in the platform which commissioned such work. However, when it came to photographs of individuals from their “own private collection”, the Court held that neither platform could claim copyright. With this, both the platforms were restrained from using each other’s copyrighted works, including “(1) commissioned photographs; (2) literary works such as interviews scripts and original pieces written by authors on the respective platforms; (3) videos that may have been commissioned by the platforms themselves; (4) the manner of presentation of the stories published by the platforms in respect of a particular subject”.

While this may not be considered a landmark judgment, given the exceptional nature of the case involving influential social media personalities, it does provide much-needed clarity and paves the way for the exploration of numerous concepts that people may have been hesitant to pursue. Although the principles of copyright law are well-established in terms of defining copyright subject matter, this case was more a result of misunderstandings caused by public discussions and opinions without a complete understanding of the facts involved.

References:

[1] Humans of Bombay Stories Pvt. Ltd. v. POI Social Media Pvt. Ltd. & Anr. [CS(COMM) 646/2023]

[2] (2008) 1 SCC 1

[3] (1978) 4 SCC 118

Image Credits:

Photo by Bulat Silvia on Canva

The Court extracted relevant paragraphs from the judgments of the Supreme Court in Eastern Book Company and Ors.  v. D.B Modak and Anr.[2] and R.G. Anand v. M/s. Delux Films and Ors.[3] to clarify that copyright law protected not the original idea but the expression of thought, the imitation of which would constitute copyright infringement under Section 51 of the Copyright Act, 1957. Hence, the Single Judge Bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh stated that there could be “no monopoly” over the running of the storytelling platforms. At the same time, the creative ways utilised by the platforms to communicate and disseminate the stories of the individuals would constitute the “expression” that is protected under copyright law.

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