Considered as pioneers or the “uncles” or “grandparents” of online video and YouTube, Benny and Rafi – popularly known as the Fine Brothers; are now embroiled in one of the bigger controversies of the recent past on YouTube. Their decision to license and trademark their existing React series resulted in some major brouhaha in the last few days.
Recording the reaction of people watching videos was how the Fine Bros rose in popularity during their early days on YouTube. Their eponymous channel was created on the 4th of June 2007, and its videos have collectively clocked over 3.8 Billion views so far! They also run two subsidiary channels named FBE2 (681K Subscribers and over 53 Million views) and REACT (5.65 Million subscribers and over 820 million views) which are quite popular on their own. To top it all, they even collaborated with Nick Cannon and ran their own 12 episode T.V series called ReactToThat on Nickelodeon which culminated in Jan 1, 2015.
All was hunky dory until January 26 when they announced on their YouTube channel that they will license and trademark their React series. This announcement was overwhelmingly ‘not’ welcomed by the YouTube community and resulted in a widespread backlash all over. Social sharing platforms, especially Reddit was flooded with viewpoints of everyone involved – content creators, online video experts and even regular users.
The REACTION concept was originally popularized by the Fine Bros around the infamous shock video 2 Girls 1 Cup in 2007. The video was an instant viral success and even hollywood celebrities and other YouTube celebs followed in line. Jessica Alba, Louis CK, The Roots, Grace Helbig, Tyler Oakley – they all had their own reaction videos on YouTube!
What’s the whole controversy all about?
React is a term used by a lot of YouTubers in their video content and titles. Even though countless YouTubers use this format of videos (a group of people looking at an object or a video and talking about it), Fine Bros were the most popular ones at it. In 2015, they had applied to trademark the terms – “Kids React”, “Adults React”, “Celebrities React”, and the word “react” itself. But there wasn’t a huge backlash like the one that we’re witnessing now. But when they recently announced their licensing scheme called React World, which would let other creators use the “react” title and other assets such as their graphics and music; all hell broke loose! Understandably so. After all, so many YouTubers were already making similar reaction videos using the word “react” in the title.
There were quite a few allegations against the brothers on a Reddit thread, for taking down channels that were making kids-react and seniors-react videos. Video Gamer turned lawyer Ryan Morrison, who is quite popular on Reddit, expressed his dissent of this whole scheme here. As people started sharing their opinions online, the subscriber count of Fine Bros started falling dramatically (at one point, they were losing subscribers at a rate of 10,000 per hour!) There was already a lot of discontent among You Tubers about the way YouTube handles content claiming and this just added fuel to the fire.
The fall in subscribers:
Like many, we were keeping a keen eye on the subscriber count of Fine Bros after the announcement of their scheme. Our channel analytics service was showing incredible numbers! The channel lost more than 100 thousand subscribers on the first two days of February! Just to show you the gravity of the controversy – the channel hadn’t seen a single day in 2015 where they lost subscribers from their overall cumulative subscriber count! They had in fact added around 4 million subscribers in the duration!
- Subscriber count before announcement = 14,081,387 (26th Jan)
- Subscriber count after announcement = 13,813,018 (Feb 2nd)
Note: You can check out the day-by-day subscriber change for the channel here.
Fine bros apologize:
Upon receiving a wildfire of criticism, Fine Bros held a Q&A on Facebook on 29th January and posted a video update on YouTube on 31st Jan. However, their response backfired since the statements weren’t really apologetic but were more like an explanation of what was happening and why.
Buckling down under pressure, they finally posted this on Medium today:
We’re here to apologize.
We realize we built a system that could easily be used for wrong. We are fixing that. The reality that trademarks like these could be used to theoretically give companies (including ours) the power to police and control online video is a valid concern, and though we can assert our intentions are pure, there’s no way to prove them.
We have decided to do the following:
1. Rescind all of our “React” trademarks and applications.*
2. Discontinue the React World program.
3. Release all past Content ID claims.**
The concerns people have about React World are understandable, and that people see a link between that and our past video takedowns, but those were mistakes from an earlier time. It makes perfect sense for people to distrust our motives here, but we are confident that our actions will speak louder than these words moving forward.
This has been a hard week. Our plan is to keep making great content with the help of our amazing staff. Thank you for your time and for hearing us out.
Benny and Rafi Fine
*This includes “React,” “Kids React,” “Elders React,” “Lyric Breakdown,” etc. Please note: It takes a while for the databases to update, but the necessary paperwork has been filed.
**Content ID is YouTube’s copyright system that automatically flags content that looks like or sounds like copyrighted content. This mostly flags videos that are direct re-uploads of our videos (which is what the system is built for), but if you know of a video that has been claimed or removed incorrectly, please email us with “false claim” in the subject line.
What the scheme was all about:
- YouTubers were supposed to opt for the FBE’s React World license and then divert 20% of their ad revenue and 30% of all brand deal revenue.
- In exchange, they would get production guidance, format bibles, a react creative playbook, YouTube handbook, trademarks, graphics and usage guides, on-going support, opportunity for channel promotion and revenue opportunities.
- According to the Fine Bro’s, they weren’t trying to make FBE’s REACT WORLD a Multi Channel Network.
- Creators could join REACT WORLD and leave anytime.
- Independent channels would have a different revenue share compared to other YouTube channels that are already affiliated with another MCN.
- After signing up officially with the REACT WORLD, creators could use titles like, PARENTS REACT TO X
- Creators would still have the privilege of sharing and promoting their content on their social and digital channels.
Support from YouTube?
Interestingly, then YouTube’s VP of content partnerships, Kelly Merryman praised the initiative. She said
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.
Why the YouTube Community hated it?
Upon the announcement of the scheme on 26th January, word started to quickly spread that the Fine Bros were going to OWN every ‘react’ video. Fans and You Tubers were immediately concerned that the Fine Bros. would use their new trademarks to quash anyone using similar formats.
“By offering our shows and trademarks to the world, we will expand the Fine Family by leaps and bounds globally, and support content that can make a positive impact around the world,” FBE founders Benny and Rafi Fine
This simple announcement of theirs started it all. Reddit was probably the most prominent voice of dissent whereas people expressed their viewpoints everywhere possible – Twitter and Facebook mainly. All the top comments on their Facebook posts were harshly negative and were accusing FineBros of exploiting YouTube community.
Did you know – The creators of Candy Crush Saga trademarked the word Saga for use in video game titles?
Here are some of the reactions on twitter:
1. Clearly state what your format is.
2. Explain why you trademarked the word React.
3. Detail the takedowns you've done.
— Daniel Hardcastle (@DanNerdCubed) January 31, 2016
TheFineBros should do a "FineBros react to getting 150k dislikes and losing 200k subs in 4 days"
— 😈🎃Paint😜👻 (@TheePaint) January 31, 2016
@thefinebros so why did you take my 8 view react video down for copyright?
— LeKev (@LeKevTweets) January 28, 2016
When Ellen DeGeneres posted a KIDS REACT VIDEO back in 2014, this is how they REACTED,
If it is, a shame to not have @thellenshow reach out to us vs. just fully taking it as their own. This happens too often.
— FBE (@FBE) September 19, 2014
So what do ytou think the future holds like for the Reaction format videos? What if The Slow Mo Guys filed a copyright on slow-motion videos, what if PewDiePie did the same for LET’S PLAY GAME format and what if Zoella started owning the BEAUTY VLOGGING FORMAT?!
We all know that reaction videos were on the internet way before Fine Brothers started their series. Of course, they popularized it and gave it a set format, but reaction videos were there. Do you think YouTube should create a strict guideline to avoid issues like this in the future? Comment below and let us know.
Being an artist, movie buff and a media enthusiast, content writing is my career train. I am a proud alumni of Symbiosis Institute of Media Communication (Pune) and currently working for Vidooly.