It’s tough being a YouTuber these days. The site has evolved into an all-out competition for viewers where creators have to compete with passionate newcomers, established superstars and the growing segment of big-media backed channels. As a result, most YouTubers are always on the lookout for ways to solidify their position, grow their audience, and reduce the risk that comes with being a part of the entertainment industry.
This week, YouTube superstars The Fine Bros announced that they are offering a licensing deal on their “React” series to . . . everyone. It is the natural progression of things as YouTube continues to grow more and more indistinguishable from television, but the announcement has received a massive amount of backlash and public outcry.
UPDATE: The Fine Bros have announced they are reversing the decision to trademark the word 'React', and are releasing all past ContentID claims.
If you're unfamiliar with the Fine Bros or their famous 'React' content, here is the most watched one ever:
What’s the Deal with 'React' Licensing?
There are really two things going on in this situation. The first is that Fine Bros Entertainment (FBE) has applied for a trademark on a number of things relative to their series on YouTube. You can see for yourself the selection of what they have applied for by going to the Trademark Electronic Search System. Plug in “Fine Brothers” into the search and you’ll see they have applied for a trademark on a number of things, including “Teens React”, “Kids React”, “Elders React” and even the word “React”. While this may on the surface raise a few questions, it’s really nothing more than FBE protecting their assets by getting them trademarked. The purpose of a trademark is to distinguish one company from another, so trademarking their assets will allow FBE to have better legal standing against copycats that are deceptively titling their videos and shows similar to the “React” series in order to gain exposure.
The second component of their announcement is the creation of “React World”. According to the description of the announcement video:
"React World allows you to license some of FBE's most popular series (the specific elements and structure of each show), and use the trademarks. With that comes a suite of support that you can read about at the website.
We do not hold a copyright on reaction videos overall. No one can. React World is about licensing FBE's show formats, not just for shows like Kids React, but also others like "Do They Know It?," "Lyric Breakdown," and more. We're ready to change the face of entertainment and community - and do it with all of you"
After watching their announcement video, reading their announcement blog, and looking through their Q&A, it seems pretty obvious that their licensing deal is being carried out primary by creating their own multi-channel network (MCN). They do address this in their Q&A where they say that they, “are not an MCN from the perspective of what passes for an MCN these days”, but the basic format is there. People who join in on this licensing deal attach their CMS to FBE in exchange for promotion, guidance and media assets to assist in production. The new and interesting thing about how this “MCN” will work is that it isn’t exclusive, meaning you can opt in to it and still be a part of another network, and you can leave at any time with 60 days written notice.
Why are Other Creators/Fans Alarmed?
The most obvious thing that is scaring people is the fact that FBE got the law involved. Prior to this move, filing trademarks wasn’t really a public event. By making a big posting about it, declaring they have created trademarks and are licensing them out, they have thrown down the challenge to anyone trying to copycat their process and make a profit from it. They are not only protecting their assets, but they want people to know it. This has caused a huge outcry in the YouTube community, so much so that Reddit/Videos was forced to add an unprecedented 'flair' on many posts just to keep control of the amount of reaction videos uploaded.
Detractors have pointed to series from VH1 and MTV like “I Love the 80s/90s” and “Beavis and Butthead who did similar reactions in their shows, claiming that FBE is copying off of an established format themselves and has no right to a trademark. Ironically enough, these series are owned by Viacom, who tried to take down YouTube in its infancy for copyright violations. And what about other companies like Buzzfeed, who have been similarly finding success with reaction style videos like the one below? How will they be impacted by a legal trademark by FBE? At a time when reaction videos are as popular as ever, some detractors claim that FBE is reaching out and trying to grab the whole market via force, which understandably scares a lot of creators.
What is the Reality of the Situation?
The reality is that a simple combination of gestures, to protect their assets and include their community in the process, has backfired completely. They have alienated their subscriber base by protecting their brand. Their only way out of this is to deliver on their claims, exactly as they have stated them. They will need to provide help and guidance to anyone that joins this licensing MCN and only protest other content that is a clear and obvious rip off of their popular series. If, as a result of their trademarks, random react videos are struggling to get through YouTube’s Content ID, it will only reinforce the idea that they are trying to control the market with legal action, even if they aren’t actively making the strikes themselves. Execution will be critical for FBE in this venture, as it could harm their core brand even more than just “React World” if they don’t pull it off correctly.
Is this Move Good for the Industry?
Relative to creators, I can say with certainty that I personally believe FBE is doing this with all of the right intentions. Every time I have heard them speak at VidCon, Benny and Rafi Fine have defended creators’ rights, spoken up against unfair MCN practices and generally been pillars of the YouTube community. I have every reason to believe that their intention is to improve upon the traditional MCN setup while protecting and extending their brand. To me, their intent is a good thing for creators. Their execution has yet to be seen. But if they can provide direct services that will help smaller creators learn the ropes and properly grow their channel, I’d say that’s a step in the right direction.
As for the industry, this scares me a little. As YouTube becomes more and more a global community, steps like these have to be taken to protect one’s brand, that’s just the nature of growth and “playing with the big boys” so to speak. It’s great that they are showing other brands the pros and cons of travelling down that path, it should give other creators something to look towards for an example on how to grow and license their brands digitally. I’m still unsure of whether this Is a good thing for the industry as a whole. Online video is a chance to redefine the media industry and it feels like they are walking the same path that has been walked before, rather than attempting to define online video as something new, different and better.
Therein lies the challenge for FBE. While they are essentially creating an MCN and attempting to build it with like-minded creators, what they create must be new, different and move the industry forward. Their biggest challenge will be doing all of this while maintaining the trust of the community, who is already skeptical and ready to turn on FBE if things look even remotely dishonest as they go forward.
The Fine Bros React to the Backlash
Update: The Fine Bros did release a video statement which has since been taken down. See the beginning of this post for a written statement.
What do you think of the issue? Let us know in the comments below.