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YouTubers revolt over licensing of reaction videos

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The Fine Bros want to franchise out their React series, but the rest of YouTube sees it as a greedy land grab

"This is not only a huge step for our company, but for the entire global media industry."

Thus begins the ill-fated introduction video to Fine Bros Entertainment's new React World initiative, a program for licensing out their company's reaction video format and related brands. It's grand talk that has met with an unexpectedly massive reaction, as other YouTube creators and many existing fans have interpreted the move as a cynical money-grabbing tactic. Reaction videos have been around since before brothers Benny and Rafi Fine started doing theirs, and the format is generally deemed too generic to require licensing of any sort. More importantly, though, the way that they pitched their new idea was evasive in its language and message.

The backlash to the Fine Bros' efforts has been swift and unforgiving. Their announcement video currently has nearly 240,000 thumbs down off 1.95 million views, and a subsequent video that tries to explain and clarify their intent has been slammed with 230,000 dislikes off 2.46 million views. Their unapologetic follow-up seems to indicate that the brothers believe it was simply a matter of "confusion" and poor communication, and there is some validity to their thinking. Many of the angriest reactions are conflating copyright with trademark law, and while it's true that the Fine Bros are pursuing a trademark for "React" and other titles in their series, that doesn't mean that they'll own the entire genre — which, indeed, they claim not to want to do.

The distinction between the different forms of intellectual property is not trivial. Copyright is automatically vested in the producer of any creative work — whether it be a painting, a sculpture, or a piece of writing — and requires enforcement only where a breach has been identified. Trademarks, on the other hand, have to be registered and actively enforced. Patents don't have any place in the Fine Bros conversation, though they've been mentioned in the noise of rebuttals. A patent is a right over the particular process for creating something, and it's the thing that would be most threatening to other creators doing their own reaction videos along similar lines to those already used by Fine Bros. But there have been no patent applications, probably because of the low likelihood of one ever being granted.

At this point, the tide of public opinion has turned dramatically against the Fine Bros, who have been haemorrhaging subscribers and fans ever since. They have also, ironically, sparked an entire sub-class of reaction videos by other YouTubers incensed by their new venture. As one of the better examples, from an animated fish named Merlin, puts it, the response to React World has been so disdainful because "everything from your actions to your terminology is 100 percent cold Hollywood corporation. You are not different just because you say 'community' a bunch and wear plaid shirts."