An attempt to trademark the word “react” has ended badly for the YouTube network Fine Brothers Entertainment, with former fans unsubscribing from the group’s main channel en masse in protest.
The network, which was launched by brothers Benny and Rafi Fine in 2007, is one of the most popular on YouTube, with 14 million subscribers. In 2010, they launched the series Kids React, which involved the pair showing children videos – initially other popular vial videos – and filming their reactions.
After becoming a hit, the series led to a huge number of spin-offs, including Teens React, Elders React, YouTubers React (featuring other famous YouTubers, some of whom were filmed watching their own videos) and Adults React. In 2014, the quantity of videos had reached a critical mass, which led Fine Bros to spin them off into their own YouTube channel called React.
Having established their dominance over the reaction video format, Fine Bros expanded further. In July 2015, they registered a trademark application for the word React, covering “Entertainment services, namely, providing an ongoing series of programs and webisodes via the internet in the field of observing and interviewing various groups of people”.
Last month, they announced React World, a new initiative allowing fans to create their own React videos, licensing the rights to the format from Fine Bros alongside production guidance, format bibles and graphics.
At the time, YouTube’s VP of content partnerships, Kelly Merryman, praised the brothers for their innovative business plan. “It’s no surprise that they’ve created a unique way to expand the hugely popular ‘React’ series to YouTube audiences around the globe. This is brand-building in the YouTube age – rising media companies building their brands through collaborations with creators around the world.”
The problem for the YouTube community is that reaction videos long predate the React format. The concept was most notoriously popularised around the infamous shock video 2 Girls 1 Cup, released in 2007. That year, reaction videos of unsuspecting people being shown the film went viral on YouTube, including family members, loved ones, and Louis CK.
As a result, YouTubers are reacting to Fine Bros themselves – without their permission. They fear that the entire concept could be hijacked by the pair, and Tristan Rayner, of tech news site Techly, catalogued a number of protest reaction videos from other members of the site:
The fear isn’t unfounded: the pair have frequently spoken out against others they perceive to be stealing the idea from them. They criticised Ellen Degeneres for running a reaction video on the Ellen Show, tweeting that it was “a shame to not have [the show] reach out to us”. And in March 2015, they said it was a “sad day for the web community” when Buzzfeed ran a reaction video of teens watching 90s music.
Unrelated reaction video channels, including Seniors React and British Kids React, were forced to take their videos down, apparently after takedown requests from Fine Bros. In the case of Seniors React, that came just weeks before Fine Bros launched Elders React.
The Guardian has asked Fine Bros for their reaction to the backlash, but has not received a response.
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Monday 1st February 2016 11.23 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010