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Mace & Crown | May 25, 2017

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Fine Brothers Attempt and Failure to Trademark 'Reaction Videos'

Ross Reelachart
Technology Editor

The Fine Brothers, one of the largest YouTube channels with 14 million subscribers, has earned the ire of the Internet by attempting to trademark the word “react” as it pertains to the popular genre of “reaction videos” on YouTube. While they cancelled their trademark plans less than a week after the announcement, the outrage the move generated is another reminder of the tenuous relationship between online content creators and trademark law.

On Jan. 26, the Fine Bros. released a video on their YouTube channel announcing a new initiative called “React World.” Under this new initiative, other content creators would be able to license the Fine Bros.’ reaction video format for a small fee as well as release their video under the extensive Fine Bros. brand.

Fine Brothers

A modified Fine Bros. thumbnail

The uninitiated “reaction videos” are a video format where the real time reactions of a person, or persons, to some event is recorded for amusement. The Fine Bros. format usually consists of showing popular fads and videos to children and the elderly. Other creators often make their own reaction videos with only themselves. On the surface, “React World” could have served as a way for smaller YouTube channels to reach a wider audience.

While trademarking “React World” was innocuous, the attempt to trademark the word “react” proved to be too much for Fine Bros. The Internet backlash was enormous and swift. At the peak of the backlash, the Fine Bros. channel lost 90 subscribers a minute. Ryan P. Morrison, the “Video Game Attorney” offered his services to multiple content creators for free in order to combat the trademark.

“If you make reaction videos, which a lot of YouTubers do, you are potentially in a lot of trouble. If you don’t make reaction videos, but you care about free speech and keeping the Internet safe from ludicrous trademarks, you should be concerned as well,” Morrison said in a public post on his law office website.

The entire initiative and trademark filing was shuttered on Feb 1., but the damage had already been done. The entire debacle follows close on the heels of Sony’s attempt to trademark the term “Let’s Play,” which also describes an entire genre of videos available on YouTube and, generally, the Internet. At the same time, video game publishers Ubisoft and EA are in a trademark dispute over the word “ghosts.” Then in 2014, “Candy Crush” developer King attempted to trademark the words “saga” and “candy.” It is hardly surprising the video game and Internet community are not on good terms with trademarking.

Obviously, the backlash King and Sony earned was the result of disgust of their nakedly obviously attempt to control and cash-in on vague terms that were already in use by the world at large. The Fine Bros. situation seems more like a case of misplaced judgement and decision-making. As Morrison pointed out in his post, the process for gaining a trademark includes a “30-day opposition phase,” in which anyone can petition against the filing. If the Fine Bros. had merely kept quiet about the filing and waited 30 days, they might have successfully gained the trademark. Meredith Placko at geek.com suggests that Fine Bros.’ plan for “React World” was more of case of the company not having a grasp on the technicalities of the business world.

“At best, it just comes across as horribly awkward. At worse, it’s smarmy and a ploy to take over the world of reaction videos on YouTube,” Placko said about the announcement video for “React World”.

The democratization of the Internet has meant that many small-time entertainers and content creators have the chance to be globally known and make a profit along the way. The fact there are people, including the Fine Bros., who are making comfortable livings off of YouTube videos is a testament to that. However, unlike the big businesses that are trying to co-opt and control the Internet culture, the small guys are just unprepared for the business side of what they do. So while the Fine Bros. might have had good intentions for “React World” and their “react” trademark, their methods could have used the help of someone who actually knew what they were doing.