The Internet Reacts to the Fine Bros — And Gets It Wrong
On January 26th, the Fine Bros, most famous for their various series of reaction videos, including Kids React, Teens React and Elders React, introduced their newest big idea, React World. The general scheme of React World is possibly the first attempt to license a Youtube show. The Fine Bros are allowing other people to take the format and general production of their popular series REACT and make their own versions of it. This includes help with production, promotional assistance, graphics and creative guidelines, according to the description of their video announcing React World. The example they cite from the non-Internet world is the relationship between American Idol and the original UK version, Pop Idol; the producers of Pop Idol took their show format, licensed it to production companies in other countries and e allowed them to make their own version. Franchising in the business world isn’t too far off what seems to be their intended goal.
For an Internet production, this is a new one. In a format where originality is king and crediting originals is tenuous, actually giving away and helping people to use one’s show is pretty remarkable. Normally this type of inclusion would be the sort of thing content producers on the Internet would applaud.
But not this case.
Around June 2015, the Fine Bros sought to trademark several words significant to their shows, including the single word “React.” This is what seems to be driving the Internet up the wall. Many are saying that this is a gross overreach by the Fine Bros, and are arguing that the actual reasoning behind acquiring a copyright is to shut down the genre of reaction videos, or otherwise monetize them since technically any video using the word “react” would be infringing their copyright.
Reactions (haha) like the ones above aren’t at all uncommon on any news item, video or blog post about the situation. They may not be as hostile in tone, but the general message remains the same: the Fine Bros are nuts and greedy for trying to copyright and take down everyone’s reaction videos.
The Internet Reacts
When the news of React World and the Fine Bros copyright hit reddit there was a very typical reddit brouhaha, with hyperbole, stunning ignorance and a desperate need to, if not shout louder than everyone else, to spin information to make the people look as bad as humanly possible. But the posts there are pretty much indicative of how people have been reacting on other mediums, including their own Youtube video:
And it’s amazing that these comments are still up, because according to the abovementioned reddit thread, there is a full time staff working to delete critical comments. I guess they’re not paid enough because the entire front page of their video’s comment section is decked with highly liked comments such as these. Man, they don’t make censorship like they used to.
Reddit and Youtube aren’t exclusively raining down the venom either. Twitter, Facebook, and while I don’t use tumblr I’m sure they’re putting in their two cents, and pretty much any social media has a lot of the same.
Apparently the Fine Bros didn’t expect this, so they attempted to clarify their position in the following Facebook post, which was shared on Twitter, posted in the above reddit thread and is featured largely in their Youtube description:
Hey everybody, wanted to clarify once again about React World.
We do not own the idea or copyright for reaction videos overall, nor did we ever say we did. You don’t need anyone’s permission to make these kinds of videos, and we’re not coming after anyone.
This concept came from a feeling that we’re doing a disservice by only having our series based in Southern California. For years, we’ve been trying to figure out how to make these shows around the world ourselves, but the production reality was impossible to achieve.
This led us to now, with starting a voluntary program to license our specific series (i.e. Teens React, Do They Know It?) for those interested in becoming affiliated with our brand. This can be mutually beneficial in a multitude of ways, as we’re going to be sharing assets, production bibles, best practices, monetization opportunities and more. If you are not interested, you don’t need to join and can still make reaction videos, or anything you want, this is the internet!
In success, React World creates a larger global conversation utilizing our various popular shows. At the same time, we’ll also be shining a spotlight on creators making cool stuff with our series by launching a new channel specifically to celebrate them, share revenue, and help grow their own audience. People from around the world have been signing up already, and we can’t wait to get started.
We are in no way claiming reaction content in general is our intellectual property. This is purely a voluntary program for people wanting direct support from us, and we continue to be so excited to work with all of you who may want to participate.
The reactions to this are pretty much the same as the ones above: insinuations of lying, accusations of wrong doing, random insults.
Despite the Fine Bros attempts to assure angry people of their good intentions and explain the structure of React World, the outrage hasn’t died down. In fact, some of it has only made things worse: People are now accusing them of “spinning” information to make them look better. Nothing can be done to convince people that this isn’t some secret Internet cabal’s way of killing reaction videos.
The Internet Needs to Reassess Its Information
When first news of the shitstorm hit, so many people were fully prepared to accept that there were evil intentions at hand, myself included. If you approach this situation with the mindset that the Fine Bros are trying to cheat the Youtube copyright system and steal money from people, you will probably find enough evidence to convince yourself that that is the case, so long as you don’t question it. But at some point, someone needs to evaluate the logic that “the Fine Bros applied for a trademark on the word ‘react’” ergo “the Fine Bros want to take control of all reaction videos.”
The thing most commenters seem to use as a smoking gun is the copyright claim on the word “react.” The first point most people need to realize is that they are not petitioning for a trademark on the word “react” in and of itself. The Fine Bros are petitioning for a trademark on the word “react” within the context of “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.” This doesn’t mean you can’t say the word “react,” or that you can’t show a video of yourself reacting to Donald Trump or what have you. React happens to be the name of the brand they have built. It’s the name of their channel, and many of their series use the naming scheme of _____ REACT. That is what they are trademarking.
Still, it’s not at all unreasonable to have some distrust. A close friend on the opposite side of this issue told me that they wouldn’t apply for copyrights if they weren’t going to use them. That’s true. But there is no sign that they plan to use them to sue others or pull down videos. In fact, they’ve been very transparent about what they plan to do with their copyrights: license it.
Here’s the thing: In order to sell something, you have to own it. In order to own abstract things like ideas, or show “formats,” you have to copyright them. “React” happens to be the name of the show that the Fine Bros have been producing since 2011. No, they weren’t the first to make reaction videos, and arguably they weren’t even the best. However, they were the first to create a series of videos under that name, with their specific format and branding. They are not claiming the concept of reaction videos, hence why the term “reaction video” was noticeably left out of their copyright registration.
The Fine Bros are attempting to license their format for other video creators to use. That in short means selling it to them, the price probably being a portion of their ad revenue (like most Multi-Channel Networks). This could be a wonderful thing. It would allow new creators to have a template to create their own stuff, with the help and promotion of an extremely successful Youtube brand. People who wouldn’t necessarily be able to make their own graphics, or have no idea how to produce a video or market it would get a chance to create their own content. It’s creation with a safety net and support system.
At least, that’s the Fine Bros’ side of it. It’s not insane to dislike having one group of people having a copyright of a word. There have been plenty of “Internet celebrities” who are genuinely bad people, who exploit others and will take any sort of advantage to get ahead. Whether or not you believe their intentions are good willed is basically determined by whether or not you can trust them. The problem is, most of the people who have begun railing against the Fine Bros don’t know who they are outside of the fact that they make reaction videos.
So who are the Fine Bros?
The Fine Bros are Rami and Benny Fine. They were early pioneers in making video content for the web, and were one of the first groups to successfully make a business off of Youtube. They helped run what is now Maker studios, but left shortly thereafter and became advocates against many of the practices that MCNs like Maker were using against creators. In 2011, they began a series of fairly simple videos titled “Kids React.” This eventually blew up and became a huge hit on Youtube, leading them to create more of these types of shows. In 2014, they created a second channel called, oddly, REACT, and produced a series of exclusive videos for that channel, also called, strangely, REACT.
The Fine Bros have a practically spotless history, which is a very difficult thing to achieve on the Internet. The one potential blemish they seem to have is a video made about the Sandy Hook shootings, which was about as exploitative as Saturday Night Live’s memorial. They have advocated for creators rights, and they paved the way for many new content creators to make a living off of Youtube. They produced content made for giving money to fund music programs in underprivileged schools. They have produced two shows for regular television, one on Nickelodeon and one on TruTV.
In other words, there is nothing to indicate that the Fine Bros are this evil group of Internet abusers that people seem to believe that they are. There’s no compelling evidence that you cannot trust that they mean their word. Even if you’re skeptical, and there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical, the amount of threats, hate and jokes made at the expense of the Fine Bros over the past week are hardly helpful.
The sad thing is, the Fine Bros were declared guilty of wrongdoing before they did anything. People who misunderstood what was happening helped to misinform other people who didn’t understand what was happening, and rather than have enough decency to look into the situation, people decided to run with the idea that some evil Youtube Illuminati was going to start copyrighting reaction videos. Or rather, people saw that reaction videos, the current whoopie cushion of the Internet, were trying something suspicious and jumped to the conclusion that they had nefarious intentions.
I would like to think that the Fine Bros are partially at fault for poorly introducing React World, but honestly there’s no way they could’ve done it without this happening. When you really think about the whole situation, it was some of the most savvy, successful and upstanding producers on the Internet introducing a plan to help other potential producers become successful, and doing so in one of the most humane and ethical ways.
And they still caught flak for it.
Reaction videos are dumb. I don’t like them, and I don’t like most of the Fine Bros’ content. They strike me as Tech Valley Corporate and a lot of the stuff they make is bland, though I will admit better produced than most reaction videos. However, just because someone makes content I don’t like on the Internet doesn’t mean they’re bad people. On the contrary, pretty much everything you can find on the Fine Bros points to them being really nice, ethical people, who are passionate about what they do and want to help others achieve what they have.
React World sounds like a stupid idea to me. Licensing a series of reaction videos? Yeah. Right. But I was wrong about crowdfunding, and now Kickstarter and Patreon have made creating content for the Internet much more accessible. I was wrong about 3D being a gimmick. It’s still a very hot trend in movies and games. I was wrong about tablet computers. They seemed like underpowered laptops, but now they’re ubiquitous. If it looks stupid and it works, it’s not stupid.
Licensing and Youtube doesn’t sound like it should work, but it might. It’s a shame that the Internet’s reaction to React World has probably made the idea unappealing to anyone who might try it in the future. Especially in a culture that’s supposed to care about creators, seeing so many fellow creators on my timeline mock and insult the Fine Bros for attempting to do something different is disappointing. It’s disappointing because not only have they potentially made a new way of delivering content anathemic, but also because they showed a blatant lack of respect to others that they demand for themselves.