Brothers Benny and Rafi Fine became YouTube stars thanks to their popular videos of kids and teen reacting to things — old technology, TV theme songs, other YouTube videos. Last week the Fine Bros. announced they’d trademarked "react," and they’d allow other channels to make similar videos … as long as they followed some rules about the format and agreed to share revenue with the Fines. The backlash from the YouTube community was swift, and it snowballed over the weekend — Reddit’s r/videos subreddit is now dominated by other YouTubers coming out against the Fine Bros. and their “React World” announcement.
The Fines apparently didn’t realize how controversial their proposal would be, but it turned out that the community did not take kindly to their trademarking words like react and opinion with respect to YouTube videos, and attempting to turn something kinda-sorta creative into a franchise glued together by legal and financial arrangements.
Benny and Rafi released a follow-up video Sunday, addressing the backlash and trying to clarify that React World was supposed to be something nice that would make money for them and other YouTubers, not an excuse to take down anyone’s videos. (Apparently, some videos have already been wrongly taken down by YouTube’s automated Content ID system; the Fines say they’re trying to resolve those claims this week.)
But by the time they released their update, it was already too late. This very funny edit of their not-exactly apology, which was blowing up on Reddit Monday morning, shows what the YouTube community at large thinks of the Fines right now:
And while Redditors were celebrating the Fine Bros.’ plummeting subscription numbers, internet rapper Dan Bull dropped the definitive React World diss track, currently sitting at No. 1 on the charts at reddit’s r/videos. It’s the most concise summary of what’s happened to the Fines over the weekend, and it also rhymes and is catchy.
The backlash isn’t all videos and protest raps, either. Attorney Ryan Morrison, who goes by @videogamelawyer on Twitter and works with the eSports community, announced he plans to file a challenge to the Fine Bros. “React” trademark.
“These guys didn’t come up with the idea of filming funny reactions from kids. And they certainly don’t own an entire genre of YouTube videos. It wasn’t their idea, and it’s not theirs to own or police,” he wrote in a blog post.
The Fine Bros. aren’t entirely without their supporters. Popular YouTuber Phillip DeFranco, a.k.a. PhillyD, made a video asking if people thought the Fine backlash was overblown relative to lesser-known scandals about pedophiles and rapists in the YouTube community. (Answer: It’s a false equivalence, because more than one thing can be bad at a time.)
Hank Green, who, with his brother John, forms maybe the only pair of brothers better known on YouTube than the Fines, also urged caution and suggested people might be, er, overreacting to React World.
In a Medium post, he argued that “no one really understands how trademarks work,” and a lot of the anti-Fine comments misunderstand how the law actually works. He went on to say that how aggressively the Fines enforce their trademark on react will depend on their attorneys.
“The question becomes … what are the Fines going to do with their trademark? Certainly they won’t take down every video on YouTube with the word ‘React’ in it,” he wrote.
Morrison, the video-game lawyer, disagrees:
Sorry, but it’s not complex. They aren’t trying to own their format. They’re trying to own the word react. https://t.co/xAnvKQSbyh— Video Game Attorney (@MrRyanMorrison) January 31, 2016
It’s not clear how this will all play out, but it’s clear that what could have been a smart and interesting move — applying a franchise model to a popular YouTube channel — is dying before it can even get started because of the tone-deaf way the Fines presented it to the community whose support they were asking for.