The Fine Bros.' "React World" Elicited Quite a Strong Reaction from the World. And rightfully so.by Steph Clark Professional
If you spend any time on YouTube, then there’s a good chance you’ve come across the work of Rafi and Benny Fine. The Fine Bros., as they’re popularly known, are the ones responsible for those adorable “Kids React” videos you’ve probably stumbled upon at some point in your endless internet browsing.
Recently, however, the purveyors of one of YouTube’s most popular Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs) caught people’s attentions for a different reason. Just over a week ago, the Fine Bros. announced the launch of React World, an umbrella MCN through which the YouTube entertainment moguls would license out their brand to other users who would in turn generate more react-based content on behalf of the React brand name.
While the Fine Bros. were careful to lay out the upsides to such a licensing package in their announcement video, such as the access to the Fine Bros.’ guidance and resources for lesser-known users, the response from the public was overwhelmingly negative, as the Fine Bros.’ videos were barraged with dislikes and negative comments. Their channels were losing so many subscribers at one point that one user uploaded a live stream of the counter plummeting lower and lower.
The furious storm of backlash was so strong that the Fine Bros. have since then abandoned all their plans for React World, including their trademark applications for the phrases “Kids React,” “Elders React,” “Lyric Breakdown,” and, most audaciously, “React.”
Yes, you read that correctly: the Fine Bros. were attempting to trademark the world “React.”
The public has spoken on this one, but it’s no less important to discuss the philosophy behind this debate, as issues of intellectual property and licensing of free creative content only continue to grow muddier and more complex as the world of the internet grows.
Perhaps most obviously, the main criticism weighed against the Fine Bros. was their attempt to trademark the word “React,” a bit of news that they conveniently didn’t mention in their initial launch video. YouTube user Becky Boop, who offered her opinions in an ironic “reaction” video to the React World announcement, perhaps justified this criticism best:
“That means that videos of, ‘Woman Reacts to Hearing for the First Time,’ ‘Baby Reacts to Seeing for the First Time,’ I react to a duck swimming across a river, whatever it is, it’s going to be trademarked, and if this trademark actually goes through, it means we won’t be able to use the word ‘react’ in certain contexts, for example, groups reacting to a video.”
While popular YouTube user boogie2988 was careful to note in his own reaction video that the Fine Bros. would have had a hard time enforcing a monopoly on reaction videos under the premise of Fair Use, the attempt to trademark such a common term (and video format) still raises a great concern, especially on such open sites as YouTube that rely on user-generated content: what exactly can you lay claim to on the internet?
Capitalism, by its very nature, has always and will always espouse a derivative market: one person comes up with a good idea, so another person comes up with a similar idea to get some skin in the game. This is just how competition works. Similarly, on a more philosophical level, it is often said that all art is a form of imitation. This is a notion that ranges from Aristotle to Dane Cook. So what about a certain type of YouTube video, a popular format (and arguably art form) that many users employ but that one particular set of users has made particularly popular? Where does that stand?
According to trademark law, there are four categories into which a mark must be proven distinctive: arbitrary or fanciful (for unusual terms who have gained notoriety despite bearing no relation to the product, such as Exxon or Apple), suggestive (for names which are indicative of the products they advertise), descriptive (for names which directly describe the product or service offered, such as, say Weed B Gon), and secondary meaning. The notion of secondary meaning is the trickiest, and the hardest to prove. It arises when consumers come to equate the name of a specific brand with the general product, such as in the case of Kleenex or ChapStick.
It seems that the Fine Bros. were perhaps hoping to attempt to cash in on secondary meaning, under the assumption that people associate the word “react” and the format of reaction videos with the Fine Bros. content, but as many detractors have indicated, this would have been very hard to prove, especially given the size of the so-called “reaction-verse” and the Fine Bros. small slice of that pie. Have the Fine Bros. become arguably the most recognizable brand name within the reaction-verse? Quite possibly, and kudos to them for accomplishing that, but the truth is, the game remains far too wide open for any one person (or pair of brothers) to lay claim to it. This is just as true for more foundational phenomena such as open source, where the licensing and ownership claims are more complex and the stakes are even higher in terms of who owns the very code our apps and programs run on.
It’s still a wild frontier out there, especially in the world of user-generated Web 2.0, so it’s hard to see anyone successfully cashing in on such a broad swath of internet territory any time soon. It should be worth mentioning, as David Marín observed, that when Richard Stallman launched the GNU project for a free operating system, he left it wide open so that engineers, developers, and even users could collaborate to make it the best possible product. Perhaps the same principles should rule the world of user-based content creation, for now, at least. In that spirit, may the best reaction win.
Created on Dec 31st 1969 19:00. Viewed 0 times.