The Fine Brothers (Benny and Rafi) run one of the most popular YouTube channels of all time and this week, we learned something very interesting about them: they don’t understand YouTube at all.
In case you missed it, there was a huge backlash against the brothers after they announced that they had trademarked the word ‘react’, as well as entire video concepts like ‘kids react’ and ‘seniors react’. In fact, here is a complete list of everything the Fine Brothers trademarked – every phrase in the ‘word mark’ column is something they trademarked:
What this all precisely means is explained here, but in short: it appeared that the Fine Bros. were trying to claim ownership of a large portion of YouTube. Now of course YouTubers should be protected from out-and-out theft, but the Fine Bros weren’t trying to trademark a very specific thing (like the character of ‘Harry Potter’) but a vague concept: people watching things and reacting to them. How do you quantify that? People reacting to things has existed since the beginning of time.
They said that they had done this in order to let other people license their trademarks, so that they could make their own ‘kids react’ videos, using official Fine Bros branding. In their follow up video, the Fine Bros. tried to argue that this made them like like Burger King, employing a small-time burger-maker. But as many comments pointed out – Burger King makes burgers – but it doesn’t also stop other people from making burgers. Just because they specialise in burgers, that doesn’t mean Burger King own the whole concept of ‘burgers’ – so why do the Fine Bros. get to own the concept of ‘reaction’ just because they make reaction videos?
The Internet’s Reaction Was Incredible
The Internet does not doing anything in half measures – it’s all or nothing. When the Fine Bros cheerfully made the announcement that they had claimed ownership of several very broad video concepts, they were faced with huge dislikes:
And mass unsubscribing – the likes of which we have never seen. Seriously, in 24 hours they have lost over 300,000 subscribers and counting. In the immediate aftermath of their announcement videos, the subscriber loss was so obvious that people were posting live-streams on YouTube where you could watch their subscriber count free-falling in real time. If you go here you can watch a live counter of every subscriber they are still losing by the second.
This Is All Their Fault
Regardless of how you feel about their decision to take these steps (and I do believe they had good – but misguided – intentions), there is no denying that they have demonstrated that they have have no idea what the YouTube community is all about – and more importantly, what pisses the community off.
Why, WHY did they announce this move proudly in a video? What on earth were they expecting? The internet has always, since the dawn of time, placed freedom above everything else – and here they are saying that they have used the law to limit the public’s freedom to make videos. Were they really expecting the YouTube community to react positively to this?
The Community Isn’t Just Being Dramatic
One may look at the huge negative reaction and just assume that it’s the internet jumping on a yet another bandwagon, but there’s something deeper here. The entire novelty of YouTube is that it is a place where a person can make almost any kind of video they want. It is a celebrated and adored centre of creativity and freedom. If it wasn’t for this kind of freedom, the Fine Bros. wouldn’t have been able to start their ‘React’ channels in the first place – but now that those channels are successful, they want to stop new YouTubers from enjoying that same freedom that let them be successful. They’ve climbed the ladder and now that they’re at the top, they’re trying to kick that ladder down. There were many eloquent comments on their videos which summed this up:
This was addressed directly to the Fine Bros.
TheMornal has hit the nail on the head here.
They Even Acknowledged This – Then Contradicted Themselves
In their (now deleted) videos on the subject, the Fine Bros talked about how glad they are that YouTube has not become like Hollywood – ruled by corporations and strict legal frameworks ….. yet that is precisely the kind of culture they were trying to introduce. Once again, I can’t stress enough how bafflingly ill-conceived it was of them to announce all this in a video. These are the kind of sneaky legal dealings that you do quietly behind the scenes, not something you hold up to the community, expecting praise.
They Could Learn From Other Creators
YouTubers in 2016 are experts in dealing with their audience. They have to be. Zoella, PewDiePie, Tyler Oakley – these guys understand (more or less) that their audience will turn against them if they cross them – and that they have to understand their audience in order to maintain them. They even go out of their way to do damage control, when necessary. For example, when traditional news sources became obsessed (for a short while) with how much money PewDiePie makes, he went to the trouble of making a video talking about it, so that his audience wouldn’t accuse him of being fake or money-obsessed.
Big YouTubers like Hank Green also frequently go out of their way to promote smaller YouTubers, because they understand that YouTube is meant to be (at least in theory) a community. The idea (that audiences cling to fiercely) is that ‘we’re all in this together’ – so when the Fine Bros. come along and say ‘we now own a large portion of YouTube and you can’t make videos about this, this and this’, it’s incredible to find that they were surprised by the backlash.
They’ve Paid The Price
You may have noticed that I’ve referred to all of the Fine Bros. drama in the past tense – there’s a reason for this (no, it’s not because they’re dead). After the furious – and ongoing – backlash, the brothers took the heavy step of completely reversing all of their decisions, including giving up all their trademarks. They had finally learned (wayyy too late), that on the internet, reputation and good will are far more important than video views. If people don’t like you, they won’t watch you.
There’s lessons, here, for existing YouTubers and up-and-comers. First, understand that the internet values its freedom and don’t try to mess with that. Secondly, if you’re going to do something the internet is going to hate, don’t announce it in a video with a big goofy smile. Third, don’t think that just because you’re popular now, that means you’re bulletproof – people aren’t idiots and if you mess them around, they will drop you like you’re hot: