Fine Brothers abandon 'react' trademark attempt after sparking online outrage
When a popular YouTube channel tried to trademark its signature video style, it quickly lost 300,000 followers
After facing the overwhelming wrath of the internet following an attempt to trademark the word "react," the duo behind Fine Brothers Entertainment is back-pedalling in response to the negative feedback.
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The Fine Brothers — also known as Rafi and Benny Fine — run one of YouTube's most popular channels, producing and posting videos that feature people of all ages reacting to objects or online clips.
The channel boasts 13.7 million followers and features titles like "Kids React to Old Computers" and "Elders React to Netflix."
Fine Brothers Entertainment actually filed a U.S. trademark application on "react" last year. But the backlash only began last week after the pending trademark was revealed as part of new program known as "React World."
Under "React World," the company planned to license its "react" assets for other creators, who could then make their own videos in a similar style to the Fine Brothers.
Critics quickly voiced concerns that the brothers could use the trademark to takedown other reaction videos already on YouTube, or attempt to claim profits on such clips.
The "reaction" genre is well established and popular on the website.
As a result of the uproar, the Fine Brothers lost more than 300,000 subscribers and ultimately opted to end their trademark filing.
In a statement released Monday, Fine Brothers Entertainment apologized and acknowledged that critics' concerns were valid. But the company also noted that the trademark application was not ill-intended.
"We realize we built a system that could easily be used for wrong. We are fixing that," the statement read. "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."
The statement also said the company would go a step further, rescinding all similar trademarks it already owns.
Legal challenge pending
Initially the Fine Brothers tried to defend the trademark, saying they had no plans to try to control all reaction videos. Rather, they wanted to use the trademark to help license and monetize their assets, while also providing tools and support for other creators.
But this defence was not well received by critics.
Ryan Morrison, a lawyer who planned to legally oppose the trademark for free on behalf of concerned YouTube creators, said the trademark would have given the brothers too much control over the reaction genre.
"Owning the 'react' in the YouTube space, or the internet space, would be akin to owning 'sitcom' in the TV space," said Morrison. "React is a genre of video in YouTube, just like sitcom is a genre of show on TV."
I know there's never a certainty in the law, but I'm certain this [trademark] would have been shut down.- Ryan Morrison, lawyer
Morrison also notes descriptive terms tend to be rejected under trademark law.
"You can't own a descriptive word," he said. "So we would have just opposed, saying that this was clearly descriptive, and clearly generic, and clearly a term used over the entire internet for an entire genre.
"I know there's never a certainty in the law, but I'm certain this [trademark] would have been shut down."
However, Daniel Anthony, a lawyer with Smart & Biggar who specializes in internet trademarks, said it is possible to get descriptive trademarks approved if they are synonymous with the company.
But he notes these trademarks do not give companies complete power over the terms.
"When you get trademark for descriptive words — usually you can't get them — but when you do, it just blocks other people from using the same thing as a trademark," said Anthony. "It wouldn't prevent other people from using those words in sentences or in descriptive matters."
It's hard to be certain of what the Fine Brothers would do with the trademark, Anthony added, and whether they could have feasibly tried to use it to take down other reaction videos.
Online backlash widespread
The online reaction to the trademark was swift, with angry comments spreading not only across YouTube, but also Twitter, Facebook and Reddit.
sooo. Fine Bros trademarked the word "REACT" so if I tweet the word, does that mean i'll get fined? will my tweet be removed? I need answers—@alonzolerone
Short form about the fine bros.<br>Try to extend your brand and trademark = good.<br>try to shut down other reactors = bad.—@Boogie2988
I reacted to the Fine Brothers. In rhyme. <a href="https://t.co/RjOgIMQJ0a">https://t.co/RjOgIMQJ0a</a>—@itsDanBull
Morrison suggests the backlash shouldn't have been unexpected, as the online world tends to greatly value creative freedom.
"When people like this come across and really just put their foot down on the neck of creators, that's just not going to be allowed," said Morrison. "That's never going to be well-received."
Anthony said online backlash, and its ability to quickly escalate, is increasingly becoming a more common problem for companies.
"That's just the nature of the internet. It's instantaneous, it's global and people without any legal knowledge post things and make comments," he said. "[The reaction to this trademark] just confirms for me the current risk in today's internet society that things can get blown out of proportion really quickly."
- A previous version of this story attributed the final quote to Ryan Morrison. In fact, the final quote, which discussed the nature of the internet, was made by Daniel Anthony.Feb 03, 2016 1:09 PM ET