-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.”
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 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.