Who Owns My Life Experience? – The Case Of Humans Of Bombay V People Of India

Ashwin Goel

In the case of Humans of Bombay v People of India, the two storytelling platforms were in dispute with each other. These platforms approach individuals interested in sharing their life stories which are then converted into audio-visual works and uploaded on their social media platforms. Humans of Bombay (HoB) alleged that People of India (PoI) allegedly used its literary works and creative expression. In response to this, the court opined the manner in which particular stories are depicted would be exclusive to the platforms themselves. The court limited its enquiry to the ‘manner of presentation of stories’ published by platforms; it did not delve into the question of ‘stories’ itself.

However, this raises more questions than answers such as who owns the ‘story’ itself? Is there a copyright on life experience itself? If a platform copies an individual’s story from a different platform but changes the manner of presentation, whose copyright is violated? Platform or the individual? This blog shall attempt to evaluate the Indian position on copyright regarding such life experiences being expressed in the form of stories on audio-visual platforms.

What Is A Life Experience?

What people share on these platforms is essentially an incident or event experienced by them and is unique to them. These platforms decide how this is published on their platforms. So, there are two aspects here: (1) the life experience originally in individual experience and (2) how it is presented by the platform. The court clarified the ownership of copyright claim in aspect (2) of the case; however, aspect (1) of the case is still left open to interpretation.

Copyright in Life Experience

The Indian Copyright Act (‘Act’) provides for copyright protection in original literary work which is defined in an inclusive manner and can include life experience. 

Since ‘life experiences’ haven’t been explicitly provided for in the Act, they can be compared with conventional literary works such as speech and interviews. This blog will attempt to understand the Indian position on speeches and interviews and use support from them to attempt to answer the question of copyright in life experiences.


The speech referred to here is certainly one given extemporaneously. The requirement of fixation is not explicit in the act of literary works. Literary works such as speeches in written form are fixed and can be copyrighted. Regarding ‘spoken’ speeches, section 17(cc) already recognizes speeches delivered in public and grants copyright to the person who delivers the speech. Thus, it can be rightly argued that the condition of fixation at least is not necessary for the speeches. 

In the present case, the platforms essentially can do two things: take it verbatim and upload it or modify the arrangement of speech and remove irrelevant parts and then upload it on their concerned platform. Now this blog shall attempt to answer the ownership of copyright in these two cases.

The test for originality in copyright in India was given by EBC v DB Modak. The court held that a compilation may be copyrightable if it is original in its ‘selection, coordination or arrangement of preexisting data.’ For originality, the work must achieve a ‘minimum degree of creativity’ not in the sense of being ‘novel or nonobvious’, but in producing a ‘substantive variation and not merely a trivial variation’.

Thus, if a platform copies someone’s speech (of life experience) in the verbatim record, it will be liable to infringe the copyright of the person; however, if there is substantial rearrangement then the copyright regarding those arrangements will lie with the platform and the copyright concerning speech will lie with the person. 


However, sharing of life experience may not be a one-way dialogue rather it can also be a two-way conversation where the interviewer (platform) constantly keeps on seeking clarifications and expansion on particular issues. So, it might take the form of an interview. 

However, the Act is silent on the aspects of ownership of the interview. Thus, taking from foreign jurisprudence, this blog shall discuss two landmark cases from the United Kingdom to analyse this position. 

In Donoghue v Allied Newspaper Ltd, the defendant, was desirous of publishing a series of articles related to the career of the plaintiff and thus held an interview. The court held that the form of language by which stories were conveyed was the language of the interviewer despite the fact that they were told in the form of dialogue and to some extent interviewer reproduced the story told by the plaintiff and therefore copyright lies with the defendant. The court concluded this by ‘regretting’ the conclusion that the plaintiff would have no copyright despite the fact that the reader will get a sense that the author of the articles was the plaintiff himself.

However, before reaching this ‘regrettable’ conclusion, it is also important to look at more recent case law from the UK. In the case of Express Newspapers PLC v News (U.K.) Ltd, the plaintiff published an article based on an exclusive interview, which quoted the words of the person interviewed. The defendant published the same report in an altered form but containing the same quotations without acknowledgement of the source. The original story had two elements: (a) a news story and (b) quotations from the person interviewed. The court held that (on evidence) that the whole conduct of the interview and selection of quotations involved at least as much skill and judgment than merely taking down the words of a speaker at a public speech. Thus, the newspaper will have copyright in person interviewed quotes. 

Thus where the platform conducts an interview with the person willing to share his story, then the question of the copyright will depend on the fact of skill and judgment involved by the platform. There is no single answer from this route and the person may have copyright in his life experience which is contingent on the skill and judgment involved by the platform.

So, who owns the copyright?

Thus, for ownership of copyright, there can be three possible cases (1) Platform owns the copyright (2) person interviewed owns the copyright (3) Both own the copyright. The platform can own the copyright if it engages in substantial skill and judgment. The person interviewed can have the copyright if communication happens in a one-way manner in the form of a speech. Finally, both can own copyright if communication between the platform and the person interviewed happened in the form of an interview without substantial skill and judgment on the part of the platform. It will be a question of fact which will vary from case-to-case basis. 


This blog attempted to answer the question – of who owns the copyright in one’s life experiences. Had the court gone into this question and found that that copyright actually lies with the person who is sharing his experience, the copyright claim couldn’t even have been brought in the first place by these platforms. This blog reaches the conclusion that who owns the copyright will be a question of fact depending on the way the communication panned out between the two parties. However, the position is far from clear, and it will be helpful if the court can clarify the same or legislature can bring a suitable amendment to the act. 

*Ashwin Goel is a second-year student at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. His interest areas include Intellectual Property Law, Public International law and commercial law.