Reacts To Fine Brothers ReactWorld Licensing Program

Submitted by kmeisthax on Sun, 01/31/2016 - 16:43 in Rants

The biggest faux pas one can make when licensing copyrights and trademarks is to do it very publicly, especially now with stuff like YouTube, where your audience and your fans are directly connected. You cannot just go out and start doing things that sound like you're asking for money, unless you're specifically setting up something like a Patreon, where it's specifically stated that the money you're asking for will go back into the production of the content that people came for. And I don't think the Fine Brothers really understood this.

So, for people who are unaware of this, The Fine Brothers are basically taking their existing channel formats; that is, reaction video formats. They actually do some of the few reaction videos that I can tolerate, because most reaction videos are borderline content theft. What The Fine Brothers have are multiple formats like "Kids React", "Teens React", "Elders React", where they get specific demographics to watch a particular piece of content, and record their reaction. And it's not designed around the content, it's designed around their opinions around the content. And that's something I can respect.

So what they want to do is, they want to license out to additional demographics that they themselves don't have access to. This is their "ReactWorld" program. Here's the thing: when people license content, it is almost always done through private, informal channels. When people like FUNimation need to go and license some new anime, they don't go and post a Twitter message saying "Hey, KADOKAWA! We would like to license whatever the latest ten lowest common denominator anime are."

Instead, they go to an industry tradeshow, where all of the various animation companies are going to be talking about their new product; and they ask for that product. They go and they have negotiations, and meetings, and none of this is made public. It's something that you actually have to work to learn about, and this is an intentional thing. If you're just going and saying, "I want to go license something", and you're doing this all out in public, you're actually breaking a lot of trust that your audience and fans are going to have in you. And I don't think this is something The Fine Brothers really understand.

Now here's the thing: A lot of people actually think they are trying to claim ownership over the concept of a reaction video. And that, regardless of what they want, is actually not possible under current copyright law, because copyright law does not protect ideas, it protects expressions of an idea. The Fine Brothers are in the right to go after people who are creating direct clones of their show, but they cannot go after people who are just creating reaction shows. If I make a video like, say, "Fantranslation.Org Reacts To Venesuelan Currency Crisis" or whatever, that is not something that they could legally sue me over.

They could, however, go through YouTube and file DMCA claims and register Content ID, because they're large enough to have CMS access. While they could not actually harm other people making reaction videos, they definitely could do copyright trolling. The interesting part of that, though, is YouTube is actually making moves to make it harder to do these kinds of baseless claims. So, if you don't remember recently, they formally announced an ongoing initiative that they've been trying for a while to make a "thing", which is the "YouTube Fair Use Program".

So, when, say, Jim Sterling makes another video making fun of yet another Digital Homicide LLC garbage nightmare trainwreck that somehow winds up on STEAM, he can't go and then claim Jim Sterling for copyright infringement, because it's quite plainly something that the courts would recognize as fair use. So, if it's the Fine Brothers' intent to actually go and make life harder for other YouTubers that are making reaction videos, I think they have an uphill battle ahead of them. That being said, they should have known that such an announcement would be very controversial and very hard to understand. I mean, when I watched it for the first time, I seriously thought they were saying, "We are going to copyright the concept of a reaction video".

There are two takeaways that I can make from this whole situation. One, is that YouTube is very much a business now, and people are going to be trying to resolve rights issues that used to be considered just not worth resolving. And two, this is hopefully going to result in less reaction video content, because I honestly hate reaction videos in general, regardless of my opinion about The Fine Brothers specifically. And while that is positive for my own personal tastes, I don't like what it's going to do to the overall YouTube culture. YouTube is very much based off of very much informal or lower-budget content. Google has been pushing for more of a higher-end focus because they feel like it's the next way to evolve YouTube into some kind of bizarro version of Netflix. That's why we have things like YouTube Red now, which I actually like and I'm a subscriber to, but I definitely can see why people are against it.

Ultimately, though, copyright and ownership has always been a severe problem with YouTube. It's just that it's always been a matter of old media vs. new media, as opposed to new media eating itself.

I wrote and recorded this rant yesterday, before I had heard that The Fine Brothers are actually beginning takedowns on competing reaction videos. Much of what I said still stands; and so far the targets appear to be people directly copying the Teens React format; but that doesn't mean things can't get worse. They can always get worse.