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I usually write about YouTube optimization and Analytics, but I’m also incredibly interested in communication, and how difficult it can be to get your thoughts correctly explained and communicated to a third party (far more difficult than most think in their day to day lives!).
Also, disclaimer: I am not a lawyer!
Combine this with how the Internet Hate Machine has been given new fuel recently, so much that I felt it a shame not to write about it, and well, here we are.
If you haven’t been following the latest YouTube news, The Fine Brothers recently made a video, announcing their “React World” initiative – it did not go down well. In just about 24 hours, the massive channel has lost over 200.000 subscribers, though they are still big enough to retain more than 13 million others. Still, losing 200k subscribers in a day, is no joke.
“React” videos are a popular kind of content on YouTube (and other platforms), where one or more people record their reaction to certain things (often viral videos, movie trailers, and so forth).
The Fine Brothers without a doubt dominate this market, both on their main channel with series like “YouTubers React” and “Teens React”, but also on their newer “REACT” channel, featuring only this type of content.
Long story short (too late), to spread their channel out to a wider and more international audience, they would allow people to create “react” videos, which they would then promote, while taking a 30-40% cut of the revenue.
I’d love to explain in more detail how this works, but this is where the confusion already starts. Can you use their graphics? In a follow-up video they say so, but in a previous comment on their video they said no to the same question. I’d quote you the comment, but you guessed it, it’s impossible to find anymore.
So what exactly do you gain by “partnering” (or whatever you want to call it) with ‘React World’? Well, apparently they will “promote you on their platform”. What that means, again, no one really knows. You’ll read that statement a few more times, just a heads up.
If you already know the entire story, click here to jump down to the more analysing points of it all.
At this point, you might not understand why it’s a fuckup (excuse the language, grandma’!) at all. Apart from being wishy washy lack of information, not so bad, right?
See, this announcement happened at the same time, as it came out that they were trademarking things. A lot of things. We start in the bit more obscure, such as trademarking “Teens React” and “Elders React”, which is already a little iffy because people have done these types of react videos long before the Fine Brothers.
We then move on to the more problematic, such as “Try not to laugh or smile” (a challenge often found on YouTube and Reddit, where you are shown a long stream of short funny clips, and the challenge is as you guessed, to try not to laugh or smile!).
And last, the one that really got people not feeling well with it all: trademarking “React”.
Further, they are trademarking “their format”. What this means, even after they made an ‘explanation’ video, no one really knows. Heck, I didn’t even know you could trademark formats!
So combining the fact that they started trademarking relatively common terms (so common, in fact, that lawyers have offered to fight against it pro bono), trademarking “their format”, and also now made a “community” where you could join them, made a lot of people very uneasy.
Now, if you’re a little law savvy, you might be thinking “But hey, that’s not at all how a trademark works!”, and yes, that’s the first problem. They never explained to people, even in their explanation video, the difference between a Trademark, and Copyright.
A lot of people are confusing the two, and thinking that they are essentially copyrighting “react videos” themselves, which they (to my knowledge) aren’t.
So think about the reaction (don’t sue me, Fine Brothers! It’s just a word!) people have, when they think “OK, so they are copyrighting reaction videos, own the names, and now have a program I can join to pay them 30% of my revenue, to make reaction videos”. Naturally, that reaction isn’t particularly positive.
Of course, there are still some problems with it. To continue to legally own a trademark, you have to protect it, and others can’t name similar products with names that could potentially be confused with yours.
So if I made a video of (my fictional) two kids reacting to a video, and I called it “Kids react to X video”, that would be illegal. I can’t use the term “Kids react” here, because they own it, and could be confused with the Fine Brothers videos.
The Fine Brothers also can’t let me be, even if they really wanted to, because they would eventually lose the trademark.
If the Fine Brothers had been known for their good will, their willingness to help “the little guy”, and being fine with competitors, this could still be saved. Sure, people might be a little iffy, but the Hate Machine would probably never get off the ground, at least not to the extent that it has.
Alas, that is not the case. The Fine Brothers have been known to “brigade” (encouraging fans to ‘assault’ a video, or online personality, so to speak) videos and shows that are just vaguely similar to theirs.
They sent their fans after TV show host Ellen, because she had kids reacting in her show, and didn’t mention them. They have had videos removed because they felt they were too similar (or people reacting to the Fine Brothers reaction video – complicated, I know!), and even entire YouTube series’ removed (such as “Seniors React”).
So when they say “don’t worry, we won’t go after the little guy”, well, people are just not that inclined to believe them, because they already have.
OK, so I’m neither defending, or attacking them for this. I don’t know if they intended to try and deceive people, if greed got a hold of them, or if it’s genuinely just a huge blunder in communication.
What I do know, is that no matter what, they could have explained it far better.
First off, they themselves should have openly announced what they were trademarking, and why. In this same video, they should have explained the difference between copyright and a trademark.
This itself would have cleared up a LOT of confusion, and people would have been much better with it, when it came from The Fine Brothers first. I still think they would get some flak for it, because no matter what it’s an unpopular thing to do (for reasons listed above), but it could still have been received much better than it was.
Second, in their announcement video of React World, they should have (in the same video!) gone into detail about what you actually get out of joining. Do you get graphics? Template? Advice? If so, what kind of advice? Promotion? What kind of promotion?
If people could actually understand the (possible) benefits of joining this program, if people could see how it would benefit THEM, and not the Fine Brothers, this would again have been received MUCH better.
If I told you this:
Due to the success of my reaction videos over the years, and the many requests for localized versions of it, I’ve decided to create a network for all the people making react videos out there, where we could grow stronger together! By joining this network, I will promote your videos on X website showcasing to tens of thousands of people!
Additionally, I will provide you with templates and graphics, such as intros, fonts, logos and background music (a library of over 40 assets!), and I even have a wiki full of personal advice ready for you to help you make the best videos possible!
To cover the costs of this, and to help promote the concept, I’ll receive 30% of your revenue from the videos you choose to promote together with me. In return, you get materials, guidance, and a much larger audience.
To be on the safe side, and ensure that certain channels won’t try and scam or take over this concept, I’ve decided to trademark some of the terms related to my channel and videos, such as the video series name “Kids React” and my channel name “REACT”.
I’m genuinely excited to be starting this up with all of you, and I truly see this as one of those rare “Win/Win” situations, where in the end, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I benefit. You benefit. The user benefits. Let’s kick some ass!
Now, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Maybe not amazing, but certainly not rage inducing.
Ky1e on Reddit, also made an entire breakdown of their mistakes, and also has some great advice. For instance, he transcribed the following from the video:
R: “In entertainment industry terms, when you create another version of a show based on someone else’s format, this is called “licensing,” which many TV shows have done over time. For example, Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent. It’s the same show format, but licensed legally to be created in other locations. So, with React World, we’ve created a new way to license formats in the digital age.”
B: “And, unlike in TV, when you have to pay huge amounts upfront, we’re providing the license with no upfront fees. Instead, we’re sharing revenue with you after you’ve started uploading. Along with a license, we’re giving you a bunch of resources to help you create the shows, make money, and get featured and promoted by us in various ways. Find out more in the links below.”
To which Ky1e writes (and I agree completely):
They spend more time on the licensing analogies than talking about what the viewer will actually get if they sign up. Saying “we’re giving you a bunch of resources” is not explicit enough; there’s no clear incentives. Getting “featured and promoted” is an incentive, but not a tangible one. Saying “posted on our official Facebook page” would be tangible.
And he later adds:
“Do it with us” is a lot different from “do it for us,” and it takes some explicit language to convince an audience that you are sincere about wanting to help them.
So why didn’t they phrase it more like the above?
Honestly, I think they might just be bad at this sort of communication, and never thought it was all that big of a deal. They probably never thought that the issue of trademarking would come up as a problem (to my knowledge, they had already successfully trademarked other terms in the past, without anyone noticing).
The probably never thought that people would get suspicious at the lack of concrete information, and that it would instead create a backlash. This is clear in their “explanation” video, where they again do not go into details, but instead say that people can write them a personal email (just explain it all in a 20-minute video, if you have to!).
Instead of their lacklustre 5 minute follow-up video, which mostly felt like a horribly insincere apology (more of a “sorry I got caught”, than “sorry I did it”, type scenario), they should have done a large one, answering the 10 or 20 most asked questions.
Instead of sitting awkwardly reading from what is obviously scripted, rolling their eyes, and having a “can’t believe I have to do this” look on their faces, they should just have printed out the information, sat down, started recording, and made it as personal as possible.
The backlash, in part, comes from the fact that people feel like it’s “the big Hollywood bullying the little producer” all over again, and reading from a premade script and not answering questions, doesn’t help to change that.
They also declined a fantastic opportunity from news YouTuber Philip DeFranco (aka “sxephil”), who has said that he invited them on his show to explain the matter, but they weren’t interested. This could have been a great chance, to make everyone feel more comfortable with the whole thing, and “spread the word” so to speak, that it’s not as bad as everyone thinks it is.
So what is to be learned from this?
Be sincere. Be upfront. Be honest, about everything, with your fans and followers. Be detailed, explain what people get out of it. Don’t do something Sony just got slammed for trying to do, a few months before! And last, think things through before sending out a video to 14 million subscribers!