The Fine Bros. and the Changing Landscape of Trademarks

Its not easy being a YouTuber today. Youtube has grown into a competitive landscape where you are in an all-out war for attention. You are competing with fellow YouTubers, newcomers, Big money-backed stars like Jimmy Fallon, and random content that just goes viral. It’s hard to stand out. So it should come as no surprise that everybody is looking for a leg up. Enter today’s victim of trying too hard: The Fine Bros.

The Fine Bros run a very popular YouTube channel built around the the “React” genre on YouTube (like this Elders React to Netflix video). The basic premise is that they show somebody something (i.e. showing a grandmother the Deadpool trailer) and film their reaction. It has become very popular and is copied all over the internet. Well, last week the Fine Bros announced that they had trademarked the word “React” and that you could license it from them to create your own “React” videos as a part of a program they called “React World”. In their mind, it was the natural progression of YouTube and created a way to monetize people using their idea. However, the YouTube community did not see it that way. Here are a couple of samples:

People react to The Fine Bros.

People react to The Fine Bros.

Since announcing their plans for “React World” they have lost almost a million subscribers, been blasted by other creators, and ended up having to pull their plans for “React World”. The Fine Bros attempted to calm people by explaining that they weren’t trying to get a lock on the format of “React” videos, but merely trying to create a path for people to create similar content. Here’s their comment:

“React World allows you to license some of FBE’s most popular series (the specific elements and structure of each show), and use the trademarks. With that comes a suite of support that you can read about at the website.

“We do not hold a copyright on reaction videos overall. No one can. React World is about licensing FBE’s show formats, not just for shows like Kids React, but also others like “Do They Know It?,” “Lyric Breakdown,” and more. We’re ready to change the face of entertainment and community – and do it with all of you”

So why then are people freaking out? Well in simple terms, they got the law involved. Its like getting into a sports car on a straight bit of road, and your buddy calling the cops to watch you drive. Instead of creating a community where people worked together, they created a system that you legally have to go through.

CatsRedCarFun

YouTube has always been a place with greater freedom, and fewer rules that traditional media. Personally, I think the Fine Bros had the best of intentions, but the door that they opened has consequences. While they may have used this to create mentorship and greater community, whose to say the next person with a trademark won’t use it to stifle creativity in the name of protection. YouTube is an open space, where there is amazing creativity. Yeah, there are going to be people who abuse it, steal content, and plagiarize work — but opening the door to making YouTube more corporate isn’t the answer.

– Peter