Last week, the Fine Brothers, one of top most subscribed YouTubers in the world, announced the launch of a new licensing programme, ‘React World’ to franchise out their reaction video series’, which include ‘Kids React’, ‘Teens React’ and ‘Elders React’, to name a few. However, the announcement has been widely seen by the YouTube community as an ‘insincere cash grab’ and a threat to creative freedom on the platform, at a time where YouTubers are already threatened by a barrage of copyright claims by larger media corporations. In this blog, I explain why YouTube is at war over this controversial announcement and give my take on the situation.
In their announcement video, Benny and Rafi Fine explain that they are licensing out their ‘React’ format to allow other creators who wish to make videos similar to theirs to do so legally. They compare the move to that of TV; America’s Got Talent is a franchise of Britain’s Got Talent, so ReactWorld would allow creators to create their own variations of the existing format. Those that sign up to the franchise would have no upfront fees, but would have to give up a sizeable proportion of their videos’ ad revenue with the Fine Brothers in exchange for permission to use their logos, alongside ‘guidance for making the show’.
However, as things stand, anyone could simply make a reaction video to whatever they like and be able to keep all the profit from ad revenue, which leads any sensible person to think that this isn’t a very good deal. And they’re right. Being able to make reaction videos and upload them to YouTube in exchange for paying money is frankly a scam.
What is so laughable about this is how they have tried to distance themselves from corporate side of YouTube, by saying:
As digital media has become more corporate, the spirit of wanting to do things differently than traditional Hollywood has started to dissipate. But our company has never lost that spirit.
The whole premise of ReactWorld is a licensing initiative, something that is almost synonymous with media corporations and Hollywood, and the Fine Bros way of trying to distance themselves from it is nothing but a pathetic way of pretending to still be two guys making videos and not a growing media empire.
But once you investigate deeper into this, it starts to get depressing.
Reaction videos have been around for a long time, and are very successful; Channel 4’s Gogglebox is just one example of that. It doesn’t require a lot of skill to take some people, take some content and film them reacting to it.
However, in their announcement, the Fine Bros seem to arrogantly suggest that their videos are changing the world and are in some way unique. This is why they have chosen to trademark many words and phrases, such as ‘Kids React’, ‘Teens React’ and even the words ‘Opinions’ and ‘React’ themselves! How are any independent YouTubers meant to express themselves in a reaction video if they can not use the word ‘opinion’ or ‘react’ in the title without fear of a copyright strike being made against them?
Also, they also complain about others ‘blatantly stealing’ their format to use for themselves, This is rich when their format relies upon distributing content they don’t own without permission, whilst they prohibit others from doing so to their videos. It is all the more enraging when the format they claim as their own is one that has existed for longer than they have been using it. For example, a channel which launched a ‘Seniors React’ series was forced to shut down, despite having posted their videos before the Fine Brothers came up with ‘Elders React’. They even called upon their fans to criticise Ellen DeGeneres for making a video featuring children reacting to old technology, because it was similar to a video they had made. This is ludicrous and is toxic to the belief of creative freedom.
If the project goes ahead, it could create a monopoly over these types of videos on YouTube, claiming that others who decide to remain independent are infringing on their intellectual property. Having already forced channels to remove videos or shut down entirely for making videos featuring children reacting and pensioners reacting to online content, what is to stop them from doing the same again. Their employees have even resorted to deleting comments that reference this and videos that have reacted to their announcement by including it in their content. What is to stop them from trademarking other reaction titles, such as ‘Dogs React’ or ‘Brits React’ once ReactWorld takes off? Such a move would stifle creativity in this area of reaction videos.
Their actions mirror that of another big player in the media industry, Sony, who attempted to trademark the phrase ‘Let’s Play’ earlier this year, which (if you spend a lot of time on YouTube, like me) is a huge genre in online video. Trademarking that would shut down channels and take away the livelihoods of many people, who now rely on YouTube ad revenue for their salary. The internet’s outrage was justified then and is justified now.
All of this considered, it is no surprise that their reaction video has over 200,000 dislikes and that they have lost almost a quarter of a million subscribers in the last 5 days alone.
Regardless of whether the duo created this project with the best of intentions, it is something that has the potential to threaten creative freedom and could set a dangerous precedent for other media giants to follow. These two can not own the whole idea of reacting to things and their move to do so is ridiculous.
YouTube was always intended to be an open platform for everyone to create a variety of videos to express themselves, and ReactWorld eats away at this fundamental principle.
Little extra bit here that I didn’t know where else to put: The Fine Brothers did release an update video to try and answer some of the main questions that viewers had, but it could not have been more insincere. The video had the duo apologise that viewers didn’t understand them clearly and saying that they don’t have time to answer all the complaints being made, as they are ‘overwhelmed’ by the negative feedback. One of the two can even be seen rolling his eyes. A true appreciation for the viewers that built their company to where it is today…