The Fine Bros, the men behind one of YouTube’s biggest channels, sparked intense backlash last week with the announcement that their React World program will allow other creators to produce officially licensed versions of Fine Brothers Entertainment YouTube video series like Kids React, Do They Know It, and Try Not to Smile or Laugh.
According to the Fine Bros React World announcement video, the licensing program is a new way of approaching the subject. A production company would typically require up front payments to license and remake a traditional television show, but the Fine Bros plan to license their various popular YouTube series for a piece of the back end.
Although the announcement may sound like an opportunity for small creators with no budget to pay up front licensing fees, the reaction to React World has been almost universally negative.
Well that FineBros announcement went down well with the fans lol pic.twitter.com/H7m2WsuSxX
— GameRiot (@GameRiotArmy) January 31, 2016
According to BBC News, the negative reactions center around the issue of trademarks. The Fine Bros already own trademarks related to their Kids React and Teens React series, and they recently applied for another trademark on the more generic term “React.”
The reason this attempt to trademark the term “React” has been met with much controversy is that reaction videos are a staple of the Internet that predate even YouTube, let alone Fine Brothers Entertainment. Countless YouTubers produce reaction videos, and the fear among many creators and viewers is that the trademark could allow the Fine Bros to squash their competition.
Popular YouTuber Boogie2988 made a reaction video to the Fine Bros announcement, wherein he discussed the potential positives of React World, and the fears from the point of view of a YouTube creator.
While Boogie was enthusiastic about some aspects of the React World project, he also expressed fears that the Fine Bros could use it to shut down any reaction video not produced under the “Fine Brothers umbrella.”
“I really don’t know what he’s talking about here, and that’s where people are scared. People are scared that, oh, if somebody else does a reaction show, that could even conceivably compete with yours, is that the problem? Is that where you’ll step in?”
The main issue rests in where the line will be drawn between generic reaction videos and the Fine Bros React series. In a video posted as a reaction to the intense backlash, the Fine Bros insisted the React World program is just a way to help smaller creators, and their attempt to trademark the term “React” is only an effort to protect their branded React channel.
“Another question is, ‘have you applied for any trademarks?’ The answer is, yes, we have trademarks just like other companies that use trademarks to protect their properties. For example, we have a YouTube Channel: YouTube.com/React. So we’re trying to protect it, and not run the risk of losing our channel name thanks to someone else getting the trademark.”
The Fine Bros have two main YouTube channels. Their original channel, Fine Brothers Entertainment, is where their popular Kids React series was born. Their other main channel, simply titled React, was created later as the popularity of their various React series exploded.
Between the two channels, the Fine Bros have nearly 20 million subscribers with the majority of those subscriptions being attributed to their original channel. Videos on both channels regularly receive millions of views each.
The idea that the Fine Bros only filed their React trademark application to protect their channel makes sense, but legal experts have questioned whether it, or any of their other trademarks, are even valid at all.
According to self-described “avid gamer turned lawyer” Ryan Morrison, one of the issues with the React trademark, and the existing Kids React and Teens React trademarks, is that they are “ridiculously generic and descriptive.”
In a recent post that addressed the attempt by Sony to trademark the term “Let’s Play,” Morrison wrote that “each mark can’t be descriptive of the class of goods they are in.” The example given is that it’s okay to trademark the word “apple” as it relates to computers and consumer electronics, but that attempting to trademark “Apple brand apples” wouldn’t work, because the mark would be descriptive.
Most of the Fine Bros show titles are, by definition, descriptive. In Kids React, kids literally react to viral videos, technology, and various other things. In Try Not to Smile or Laugh, people watch videos and try not to smile or laugh.
According to Morrison, his law firm plans on opposing the React trademark and will also attempt to cancel the Fine Bros Teens React and Elders React trademarks.
In their backlash reaction video, Benny and Rafi Fine claim that they are only interested in using their trademarks to prevent other creators from copying their “exact format,” which critics have complained is too nebulous a statement.
Each of the Fine Bros React series do follow a very rigid format that involves several kids, teens, adults, elders, or YouTubers watching or interacting with something. The Fine Bros then ask each person a series of questions to elicit reactions. The reactions are then edited together to create a seamless reaction video that sometimes contains more than a dozen reactors.
According to the Fine Bros, the right to produce videos with this exact format, including all of the official logos and graphics, is what creators get when they sign up for React World, and they aren’t interested in taking down any generic react videos that don’t copy their format.
Morrison, and others, claim the opposite, and the Fine Bros have been accused of taking down numerous other reaction videos in the past. Fullscreen, the multi-channel network that Fine Brothers Entertainment belongs to, has also been accused of similar take downs.
Since the original React World announcement, the Fine Bros have lost in excess of 200,000 total subscribers. According to data from Social Blade, the Fine Brothers Entertainment channel has gained a net 94,650 subscriptions in the past 30 days. However, the channel has lost more subscribers than it has gained in each of the days following the React World announcement.
In the last five days, the channel has seen a net loss in excess of 200,000 subscribers.
— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) February 1, 2016
However, views of the Fine Bros videos have remained steady, also according to numbers from Social Blade. For instance, the Fine Brothers Entertainment channel received 4,125,370 views on Monday, January 25. As of this writing, on Monday, February 1, the channel has already received 4,128,883 views and the day is not yet over.
According to Social Blade, the estimated earnings associated with those views falls somewhere in the range of $1,000 – $16,5000.
Are you worried that the Fine Bros will use their trademarks to eliminate other reaction videos from YouTube, or is the backlash blown out of proportion?
[Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision for THR/AP Images]