The Fine Bros Plan Is Actually Pretty Cool If You Get Past How They Announced It
from the ok,-hear-me-out dept
Since late last week, we’ve been getting lots of inbound requests and submissions to write about The Fine Brothers, and the claims that they’re somehow trying to “control” or “claim ownership” on the concept of “react videos.” Almost all of the inbound requests are expecting us to trash the Fine Brothers for this apparent attempt to “own” something that can’t be owned, and we’re going to disappoint them. Having gone through all of the details, it actually looks like the Fine Brothers were legitimately trying to do something that’s actually… kind of cool. Now, before you rip off my head as well, please wait and hear me out. I will say that they could have been a bit more tactful about it, but I don’t think they deserve the intense hatred they’re getting.
There are lots of details here, but it starts with the Fine Brothers, Benny and Rafi, who have built up a rather impressive empire in creating amusing internet videos. They have a bunch of shows, many of which are crazy popular. Among the most well-known is probably the “Kids React” series, in which they film kids reacting to things (often “old” things that the kids may not be familiar with, frequently pop culture related). Personally, I like the one where kids react to seeing the very first iPod. Warning, if you’re older than, like, 10, this video may make you feel really old.
Anyway… this latest mess kicked off with a YouTube video where Benny and Rafi Fine act as if they’ve just cured cancer or something, they’re so excited for what they’re putting out into the world — a way for anyone to “license” their various show “formats,” like Kids React:
But, having gone through the video, the details, more details, the FAQs and their hurried attempts to defend themselves, I actually do think they were trying to do something that is kind of cool. But they got seriously tripped up by the way they presented it.
Here’s what they probably should have said they were trying to do: “Hey, everyone, we know we’ve got lots of enthusiastic fans who love our react videos and want to make their own. And now we’re going to help you make those videos, help promote them and even help you make some money off of them! Yay! Isn’t that exciting?”
Here’s what they said instead: “Hey, everyone, we’re going to let you license our “React” intellectual property. Also, people who copy our videos are bad people, but now you can do it if you license from us! Isn’t that totally exciting?”
Here’s what everyone heard: “Hey, everyone, we own “reaction videos” and now if you want to make your own, you have to give us a cut or we’ll shut you down, because you’re bad! Isn’t that exciting?”
The problem was that they focused on the mechanism (“licensing!”) rather than the benefits. They’ve been pretty clear that they’re not looking to shut down anyone. And all the claims from people saying that they’re claiming “ownership” of reaction videos is wrong. Yes, they’ve trademarked some stuff, but trademarks are not copyrights or patents. And, yes, while there is trademark abuse, there’s no indication that what they’re trying to do here is abusive. Actually, it looks like a pretty good idea.
They know that lots of people make similar reaction videos. And a lot of those people are their fans. But rather than shut them down and rather than demand big licensing fees, they created this (somewhat unique) program, where they’re giving a license to anyone who wants it, and with that license, you get a variety of benefits, including graphic elements and (importantly) the ability to have the Fine Brothers help promote and monetize your videos. They take a cut (looks like a pretty small percentage actually), but that should be worth it for many people, who probably wouldn’t have many opportunities to monetize the videos by themselves.
So, rather than use intellectual property to limit people (especially fans), this effort looks like it’s designed to do the opposite. It’s offering ways for fans who make their own videos to be considered “official” videos. Imagine, for example, if LucasFilm did the same thing, giving a sort of stamp of approval for people making fan Star Wars films — and would even let them release them, just as long as LucasFilm got a small cut? That would be kind of cool.
Now, there is some, potentially valid, concern that the Fine Brothers have attempted to trademark some of the names of their shows, and those trademarks could potentially be abused. Additionally, the whole “people are stealing our formats!” claim in the video above just comes across as silly. Finally, there are at least some examples of absolutely stupid takedowns that may have been made by the Fine Brothers or by people working for them. And those are all certainly issues to be concerned about — and the Fine Brothers should have perhaps realized that those issues were going to come up, especially the way they presented this.
But, going back to the actual licensing program, it’s not that crazy by itself. A trademark is pretty limited in what it can prevent here, and it really doesn’t look like they’re trying to take down generic reaction videos — and the fact that they’ve publicly insisted they’re not intending to do so would clearly hurt any actual attempt to do so later. The takedown pointed out above was stupid, and pretty clearly fair use, but was using the Fine Brothers’ original work (it was a video of him reacting to one of their Kids React videos). Again, it was a really really dumb takedown that they shouldn’t have done, but is a separate issue from this licensing program for people creating something different entirely.
Similarly, a lot of the criticism is that there’s nothing special or unique in “reaction videos” and that plenty of others have done them, even predating the Fine Brothers. That’s true — and this is where the misunderstanding of “format” outside of the cozy Southern California entertainment world comes in. What they’re talking about is building off of the larger reputation associated with the shows themselves — something the Fine Brothers actually did build up beyond just generic reaction videos — including a general setup and script for how each of the videos goes along with the graphical elements that accompany the shows. Most other reaction videos don’t follow that same format — with multiple people looking at a laptop or a piece of technology, with the quick cuts between different folks, and the captions and explanation bubbles and whatnot. I’m not saying any of that is brilliant, but it is the kind of thing that, when packaged together, could certainly be a valid “format” for a show.
Again, if you separate it out, overall, this actually looks like a pretty cool idea for how an entertainment brand could (and probably should!) embrace fan culture and fans trying to build on their work. But, it was presented slightly awkwardly, with a focus on terminology not well understood outside of the entertainment business, and in a world where people are (so rightfully!) concerned about abusing intellectual property. And, the fact that the Fine Brothers have apparently done some stupid takedowns doesn’t help at all. Mix in a bit of Reddit mob behavior and you have a recipe for a massive overreaction.