Trademark law is complex, but the Internet isn’t known for waiting for understanding before letting the rage fly.
YouTube creators, Twitch streamers, and — seemingly — the rest of the Internet are all incensed that the Fine Bros., a pair of sibling stars that own and operate the React Channel on Google’s video service, trademarked the word “React.” This is in relation to the videos the Fines do where they point a camera at someone and have them react to something else. For example, the company’s second most popular video ever shows a bunch of teens jumping at the silly scares in the low-fi horror game Five Nights at Freddy’s. But many people are upset with the Fines because they claim that “React” is a genre and not a format that the brothers own. This has led to people making reaction videos about the trademark, a social-media campaign to #UnsubTheFineBros, and an attorney promising to fight against the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s ruling. In the wake of this, the React Channel has lost thousands of subscribers.
It’s clear why the Fine Bros. would want “React” as a registered trademark, which the USPTO has provisionally granted them as long as they get through the public-opposition period. Having this legal protection would help them remove videos from YouTube that they claim infringe on their work. They would also have complete freedom to use “React” in promotional material and merchandise where others would not.
Equally understandable is why so many people are upset by this. Reaction videos represent a hugely popular genre on YouTube that thousands of people use to engage with their audience and to increase their subscribers. For game developers, having their products featured in these videos is a great marketing tool. But this registered trademark would make any business deals where a developer or publisher pays for a “React” video a legal risk.
Those risks led Ryan Morrison, also known as the Video Game Attorney on YouTube and Reddit, to step in and offer his help to the community of people who make React videos. In a video, he explained why this particular trademark goes too far and what he is going to do about it.
We asked Morrison whether his proposal has turned into real action, and he says that it has.
“I will be opposing all of the currently pending Fine Brothers Entertainment trademarks, including the ‘React’ trademark,” Morrison told GamesBeat.
We’ve reached out to Fine Bros. Entertainment for a comment on this story, but the company has not responded to our inquiries.
While the USPTO has agreed to register the trademark for the Fine Bros., Morrison’s opposition will represent members of the community coming together to prove that the use of the “React” term is larger than the React Channel.
“‘React’ videos are a genre of YouTube and other streaming sites,” said Morrison. “Owning the trademark for ‘React’ would be akin to owning the trademark ‘sitcom’ in television. Their other trademarks, more long-form, like “Kids React” are equally just as dangerous. Trademarks protect against anything confusingly similar, so it’s possible a video series titled “Kids have Emotions” could be taken down.”
The attorney explains that trademarks only protect a word or logo, and that protecting the word “React” would have nothing to do with the Fines protecting their format. If they wanted to do that, it would involve the patent system. So this is an effort by the Fines to associate the word “React” with their React Channel brand, but Morrison says that argument doesn’t hold up in his opinion.
“When I see that word [on YouTube], do I think of the Fine Bros? If not, then they shouldn’t have it,” he said. “Further, if a word is descriptive, it cannot be a trademark.”
For an example, Morrison pointed to his own personal brand.
“I go by ‘VideoGameAttorney’ on Reddit and Twitter, but that’s just a descriptive term for an attorney who works in video games. I can’t trademark that,” he said. “And the Fines shouldn’t be able to trademark ‘React.'”
In an effort to defend themselves, the Fines released a video answering some of the questions and criticisms that the community has lobbed at them. But in that apology, the pair explicitly said that they “do not own the [react] genre.”
To that, Morrison excitedly tweeted the following:
"We do not own the react genre." Thanks @thefinebros, making my opposition filing a lot easier!
— Video Game Attorney (@MrRyanMorrison) January 31, 2016