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Online Backlash Forces The Fine Brothers to Cancel Trademark on the 'React' Format

Variety
Before getting into this, there are two terms that it's worth quickly discussing the distinction between: format and genre. In the context of a TV show, film or, yes, a YouTube video, format relates more to the technical aspects of the content, whilst genre applies to the general style. You can't copyright a genre, Hammer don't own horror, the History Channel don't own historical documentaries and The Fine Brothers most certainly don't own 'reaction' videos, much less the word itself.

What you can copyright, to an extent, is the format. In the world of TV and film, if something is clearly an outright rip-off of something else, the original creator can sue them for intellectual property theft or copyright infringement. The former relates to the use of ideas and the latter refers to imagery and terminology. For example, if a film was made that ripped off Aliens, something which directly copied the narrative structure so closely that it couldn't possibly be a coincidence would be placed in the crosshairs of intellectual property theft, whereas if they used actual footage from the film as if it was their own, that would be copyright infringement.

I used Aliens as an example because there are several films which are basically bare-faced copies of that franchise, you've probably seen them in bargain bins at HMV, the most notable one is Alien vs Hunter. In those cases, while the story structure, style and visual elements are almost exactly the same, nothing has been directly lifted from the source content, so there are no grounds for the law to get involved.

On YouTube, this happens even more often, one uploader will find success with a new format and other iterations will emerge almost immediately, and while it's true that some of them will steal material and when this happens, reporting is usually the most direct way of dealing with it, there's little to no point in suing them because even if they are making some amount of money from their plagarised content, it's unlikely to be a lot.

The Fine Brothers make a lot of money, they have over 13 million subscribers and 3 billion views and through ad revenue, that amounts to a substantial net income, if you'll pardon the pun. Their 'react' format doesn't do anything especially unique, it merely cuts between different people looking at a computer screen, with a superimposed feed of what they're watching in the top corner. They've been doing this for so long, and so successfully, that it would be nigh-on impossible for any pretenders to dethrone them, and yet they've felt the need to attempt to trademark their format.

In what is now their most disliked video of all time, which has since been removed due to the online backlash it caused, Fine Bros announced that they had created 'React World', and in so doing filed a trademark for the word 'react'. Said trademark would have applied to “entertainment services, namely, providing an on-going series of programs and webisodes via the Internet in the field of observing and interviewing various groups of people.” That's still a pretty broad net to cast, and it would have meant, in essence, that any video with the word 'react' in the title could have been regarded as a copyright breach.

React World itself is designed so that users can create reaction videos under the Fine Bros banner, for which they will be given a set of tools and instructions in order to help them produce content. The catch? A slice of their revenue gets taken away, 20% if you're an independent and 40% if it's under network or other corporate ownership. People were not best pleased, and they quickly released a second video attempting to better explain their actions, which became their second most disliked video of all time, also now removed. Remember how I said they have over 13 million subscribers? Well, before all this happened, they had over 14 million.

The other thing worth taking into consideration is that they only 'tried' to get this trademark. As lawyer Ryan Morrison noted over on Kotaku, the public would have had 30 days to contest the legitimacy of a trademark after it had been published. Had Fine Bros waited 30 days to post the video, the word 'try' wouldn't be applicable here. You could argue that they wanted to demonstrate transparency and give people the chance to question or counter their actions, but it's just as likely that they simply didn't realise how much this was going to anger people.

The fact remains that their gargantuan (for the moment) subscriber list and reliably high view count figures mean that they are in no danger from pretenders, yet in the past they have also copyrighted phrases such as 'adults react' and 'parents react' and have taken down videos which they felt were too similar to their own. One such video came from a channel with a mere 10 subscribers. As some have pointed out, this would be far less of an issue if A: they had created a term to title their videos with, rather than using a generic, commonplace word and B: they were the true originators of this format, which they are anything but, it's been around since long before the days of YouTube, Kids Say the Darnedest Things, for example.

Fine Bros did stress that they did not intend to go around taking down every video in the 'reaction genre', but they seemed to fail to understand what really got people steamed. YouTube is, in and of itself, a business, but in terms of user content, only a minute fraction of what's posted on there earns anyone any money. For the most part, it's a creative playground where people can actively share ideas, saying that 'you can make videos like us, but you have to do it on our terms, and give us your money' runs counter to that entire ethos.

There have been plenty of amusing, poignant and brutal reactions to this news, none of which Fine Bros have made any attempt to sue (yet), or even make a video compilation of (because, you know, the bulk of their videos are built from content that was actually created by somebody else). The best one, for my money, came from another popular channel, Mega64:

 

Thankfully, all the online criticism has had an effect in the end, with Fine Bros backing down, removing all related videos and rescinding all trademark claims associated with the 'React' format. They announced the decision via a post on Medium:

A message from the Fine Brothers

"Hello,

We’re here to apologize.

We realize we built a system that could easily be used for wrong. We are fixing that. The reality that trademarks like these could be used to theoretically give companies (including ours) the power to police and control online video is a valid concern, and though we can assert our intentions are pure, there’s no way to prove them.

We have decided to do the following:

1. Rescind all of our “React” trademarks and applications.*

2. Discontinue the React World program.

3. Release all past Content ID claims.**

The concerns people have about React World are understandable, and that people see a link between that and our past video takedowns, but those were mistakes from an earlier time. It makes perfect sense for people to distrust our motives here, but we are confident that our actions will speak louder than these words moving forward.

This has been a hard week. Our plan is to keep making great content with the help of our amazing staff. Thank you for your time and for hearing us out.

Sincerely,
Benny and Rafi Fine

*This includes “React,” “Kids React,” “Elders React,” “Lyric Breakdown,” etc. Please note: It takes a while for the databases to update, but the necessary paperwork has been filed.


**Content ID is YouTube’s copyright system that automatically flags content that looks like or sounds like copyrighted content. This mostly flags videos that are direct re-uploads of our videos (which is what the system is built for), but if you know of a video that has been claimed or removed incorrectly, please email us with “false claim” in the subject line."



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Online Backlash Forces The Fine Brothers to Cancel Trademark on the 'React' Format Reviewed by Callum Davies on Tuesday, February 02, 2016 Rating: 5

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