Since 2007, the Fine Brothers have been creating online video content. While they’ve had success with a number of different formats, none has proven to be more successful than their “Respond” series in which children, older citizens, teenagers, adults, and well-known YouTubers react to…stuff…mostly YouTube videos. However, you will also find footage of teenagers reacting to old-school video gaming consoles, which makes me feel quite ancient indeed.
Even though it doesn’t appear to be particularly difficult, many individuals do it, and the Fines are the best at it. The production quality is excellent, the editing is flawless, and the brothers (who interview visitors and manage the discourse) always elicit positive responses from their subjects during the show’s production.
It is hardly a revolutionary form of media, yet it is enormously popular nonetheless. Watching them is a lot of fun, and I’ve appeared in a few of them myself.
In other words, how did these guys who produce some of the least offensive content on the planet suddenly find themselves embroiled in a worldwide hate campaign?
You should be aware that The Fines (and they are my friends) have themselves had negative reactions to certain situations in the past. People have made fun of the Fines because they have achieved success, and one especially rude (and extremely mean) parody was pulled down by the Fine Brothers themselves. VERY few top producers have the ability to remove a video from YouTube themselves, despite the fact that this is a mechanism that is supposed to be used for intellectual property infringement. However, the Fines abused their authority, and everyone knows that using power to squelch criticism on the internet will only lead to more criticism in the future.
A number of high-profile instances have also occurred in which the Fines have called out other authors for stealing their format. Everything from small YouTube channels to Ellen and BuzzFeed is an example of this.
Obviously, copying is a part of any culture’s foundation, but the line between recording someone’s reaction to something and creating an exact replica of the “React” series is a fine line. In any case, even if I were to create an exact replica of the “React” series, it would not be considered plagiarism in any sense of the word. Patenting a content format is quite tough. A widespread (and probably right) perception exists that the Fines have taken on a bit too much ownership of the “people respond to things” video genre; nonetheless, this is a common occurrence among those who become deeply involved in their work. However, it is understandable that the sentence is not correct.
All of this came to a head this week with the announcement of “React World,” an opportunity for other companies to license the “React” brand (including all assets such as logos, transitions, design, as well as marketing assistance provided by the Fine Brothers) in exchange for a percentage of the revenue generated by content created with the license. It came down to the fact that they wished to franchise their show to individuals in various countries speaking different languages. For media firms, this is completely normal practice, and I don’t believe anyone would have objected to it if three factors had been taken into consideration first.
- The Fines were already reviled by a certain type of individual who had determined that they were money-grubbing and power-hungry before they were even elected. Anti-Semitism played a role in some of this (as seen by YouTube comments), but only a small portion of it. The importance of activation energy in situations like this cannot be overstated, and it is worthwhile to investigate where that energy (and the ease with which individuals accepted the narrative) comes from. An even greater portion of the bandwagon was fueled by legitimate dissatisfaction with the Fines’ earlier handling of criticism (which was awful) and their exercise of power over other people’s intellectual property.
- The Fines attempted to trademark the phrase “React” for use in online video by registering a trademark application. Since this would be an extremely difficult trademark to defend in court, I think they had inadequate legal counsel from the start.
- They already had a history of attempting to control other people’s intellectual property on occasion (albeit the incidents have been exaggerated to an absurd degree).
People who had already made up their minds weren’t going to believe the Fines when they stated that they would not be utilising their new trademark to take down films from other artists. This was especially true given the fact that they had in the past taken down videos in an improper manner.
Due to the Fine Brothers’ recent acquisition of a trademark on the word “React,” it was assumed that their new licencing system would be set up to require anyone who used the word “React” in a video title (or who featured a person reacting to something in a video) to pay them a 30 per cent licence fee. It goes without saying that this is absurd, and it was made even more absurd by a widespread misunderstanding of what the term “trademark” actually implies.
The critical comments included phrases such as “The Fine Brothers are copyrighting the react format!” and “The Fine Brothers are stealing the react format!” Which, if you know anything about intellectual property, is completely illogical and incomprehensible. But, let’s be honest, no one has any idea what intellectual property is or how it works. If I didn’t have to, I’m sure I wouldn’t do it (though my company did produce a course teaching it if you want to learn.)
It was noted by the Fine Brothers that they were not attempting to regulate reaction videos, but rather content that utilised “all of the aspects” associated with the React brand. “All of the elements” were and remain uncertain, but the doubters mistook that for “whatever we decide,” as they did with the previous phrase. As a result, Fine’s opponents expanded the narrative to include the notion that they were attempting to suppress competition and hinder innovation.
This was a toxic environment, and the sense that individuals were coming together to take on some awful monolithic media organisation seemed to permeate the atmosphere. Fine Brothers Entertainment, in my opinion, is a small business that faces genuine dangers of going out of business and causing individuals to lose their jobs. Many people, however, find it difficult to comprehend the difference between a company with 50 employees and a company with 50,000 employees.
Not only on Reddit but also in YouTube comments, the most striking messages rose to the top of the list. The Fines posted a pretty horrible (and fairly arrogant) update video about how no one understood what they were attempting to accomplish on social media, and the topic spread (which, to be fair, was accurate). At that time, tens of thousands of individuals were cancelling their subscriptions every hour.
After yet another day of this, the brothers made an announcement on Medium, stating that they will suspend all take-down claims, revoke all of their trademarks, and discontinue their licencing operation altogether. According to a lawyer who had previously been a vocal critic of the Fine Brothers trademark, the Fines had supplied him proof that they had revoked the trademarks in his possession.
And with that, it’s over for everyone…
Except for the fact that the haters continue to rant about how terrible the Fines are, and a large number of people appear to believe that a show they used to appreciate has now been tarnished in some way.
To be completely honest, this entire experience has been a little unpleasant from my standpoint. That the Fine Brothers handled things was not my favorite part of their performance” (though the last bit, where they apologized in the face of people who had become full-time haters and called attention to the potential problems with their licensing plan was pretty impressive). The internet’s behaviour in these instances, on the other hand, irritates me to no end. The entire “controversy” was built on what people expected the Fine Brothers to do, rather than what they really did, and that’s a terrible thing to contemplate.
This was purposefully miscommunicated by people who despise the Fines, and the public gulped it down without question. Combine that with the not-uncommon belief that, well, the Fine Bros are the type of people who do tend to be money-grubbing and power-hungry…they look like…seem like…that sort of person who gathers money without really deserving it, and you have a little more fuel for the fire that only adds to the skeezy nature of the situation.
Even though some of the participants had valid grievances or complaints, and it is possible that those issues would have never been addressed without the intervention of an angry mob, the overall quality of the conversation had little to do with genuine concerns about intellectual property and much more to do with figuring out how to most effectively insult people.
There are numerous lessons to be learned from this, but for me (a professional YouTube creator), it serves as a warning: there is always a mob waiting to erupt on the internet. This lovely life that I’ve been blessed with by good fortune, hard labour, and a burning desire? That mob will be able to take it all away, and they will thoroughly enjoy doing so.
An earlier version of this article said that the Fine Brothers had registered a trademark for the use of the word “React” in YouTube videos. This has been corrected in this version. In actuality, they had merely applied for the trademark at that point. It was cancelled, and others were cancelled, including those for “Kids React,” “Elders React,” and other events.