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Can you trademark videos of something that we all do every day? Not without some controversy, as popular YouTubers the Fine Brothers have learned in abundance over the past several days.
Back in July, Rafi and Benny Fine, the sibling duo behind Fine Brothers Entertainment, filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the word "React." The creators, best known for their series of popular reaction videos that are housed in a dedicated “React” channel, last week announced a new licensing program to broaden the scope of the React videos called REACT WORLD.
As laid out in the video and a Medium post, the Fines said that through REACT WORLD, creators would be able to license the format of their shows, and the company would assist them with production, trademarks, graphics, promotion and other revenue opportunities. The brothers' company would then take 20 percent of advertising revenue and 30 percent of brand deals from the licensee, but would not require a large upfront fee like a TV licensing deal might.
The brothers explained that the program was borne out of wanting to help safeguard the work of their fellow creators, and wanting to stand apart from the more corporate elements of the digital media world.
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"Part of why we believe this initiative is important is due to witnessing many creators, ourselves included, having their shows and formats blatantly stolen by companies and people both online and on television. And we implore everyone not to support those companies and channels. When you notice someone ripping someone's format off, don't stand for it," said Rafi Fine in the announcement video.
While the brothers' intentions appear to be focused on protecting their brand, fans have viewed the program as more of a litigiously-minded cash grab rather than a global call to protect intellectual property. Over the last week, the channel has seen a loss of subscribers, a social-media campaign with the hashtag #unsubfinebros and a sizable collection of critical reaction videos to the news.
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Over the weekend, the Fines posted a follow-up video simply titled "Update,” which has been viewed more more than 3 million times, with 54,890 likes and 261,000 dislikes.
The duo apologized for any confusion surrounding the program, and went on to field a few of the main questions they were getting about their intentions with REACT WORLD. With regard to the trademark application, the brothers said that it was filed with an aim to prevent their channel from being taken over by someone else, not as a means to take down similar videos with impunity.
"We were never trying to say that every video where someone reacts to something else is something we would try to control. When we reference licensing the react format, we only meant our specific series, not the overall genre of reaction videos. We do not own the genre," said Benny, likening the REACT WORLD experience to becoming a franchisee.
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Whether that message changes the minds of angry fans remains to be seen.
The “React” franchise initially launched in 2010 with "Kids React," and in the intervening years, series such as "Teens React," "Adults React" and "Elders React" have joined the stable of popular shows. All told, the brothers have three channels with about 20 million subscribers and garner more than 150 million views each month.
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