-Wes Anderson, Attorney

In the world of YouTube, subscriber count is king. With over 14 million subscribers, the Fine Brothers seemed at the forefront of new media. But earlier this month, the Internet’s collective scorn for a trademark portfolio sent the Fine Brothers’ subscription count tumbling.

If you haven’t been following Benny and Rafi Fine of the Fine Brothers (during your non-work personal time, of course), they are among YouTube’s most well-known channels as purveyors of “reaction” videos, where selected people provide their immediate response to popular videos, ads, trends, games, and electronics (if you want to feel ancient I highly recommend “Teens React to Nintendo”). Their popularity steadily grew over the last five or so years, and before long the Fine Brothers built up various series of reaction videos – including “Kids React,” “Elders React,” “Teens React,” and the recursive “YouTubers React.”

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Things went south earlier this month, when the Fine Brothers posted a now-deleted video (mirrored here) announcing “React World,” a self-described “first-of-its-kind program that allows people and companies to license all of our popular shows” through a content partnership and advertisement revenue-sharing model. Rafi and Benny lamented that their shows and formats had been “blatantly stolen” by other content creators, and promoted React World as a means to create similar format videos “legally.”


Commentators quickly discovered that the Fine Brothers had amassed an extensive trademark portfolio relating to reaction videos, including registrations for KIDS REACT, TEENS REACT, and ELDERS REACT, each for “Entertainment services, namely, an on-going series of web site programs in the field of observing and interviewing” the applicable demographic.

It’s easy to wonder why these registrations were not deemed merely descriptive by the Patent & Trademark Office – instead, only KIDS, TEENS, and ELDERS were disclaimed as descriptive wording. What’s more, the Fine Brothers also had an approved application for the standalone wording REACT, identifying “Entertainment services, namely, providing an on-going series of programs and webisodes via the Internet in the field of observing and interviewing various groups of people.”

The YouTube community did not…”respond” well, questioning why the Fine Brothers would claim ownership over what appears to be a generic term for the genre of “reaction” videos (Kids Say the Darndest Things, for example, comes to mind as a predecessor). Other YouTube accounts also noted that the Fine Brothers had taken down their own “reaction” videos in the past based on an IP claim.
Things quickly went south for the Fine Brothers, and their subscription count dropped by hundreds of thousands as the backlash grew. The Fines attempted to explain their motives, likening the licensing program to fast-food franchising. After this only stoked the Internet’s flames of fury, they issued an online statement apologizing, terminating the React World program, and taking the bold step of abandoning and surrendering all “react” related trademark applications and registrations, saying:
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.
Indeed, a quick check of the PTO records shows that the Fine Brothers have abandoned, or have filed surrender documents, for a host of applications and registrations – only an application for FINE BROTHERS ENTERTAINMENT remains live. (The Fine Brothers have filed Section 7 surrender documents for all of the registrations, but this is not yet reflected in TESS).
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If nothing else, the rise and fall of the Fine Brothers teaches that any brand owner’s audience can uncover your trademark portfolio, and one that appears to “overreach” into descriptive or generic material can generate a profoundly negative backlash, regardless of the motives behind that portfolio. Even if the PTO lets your application through, as it did for the Fine Brothers, the public may uncover your arguably descriptive mark and assume the worst of intentions.