Benny and Rafi Fine, also known as the Fine Brothers, are well-known YouTube® content producers – they publish videos that show groups of people watching and reacting to things. Some recent examples include Elders React to the Oscars, Adults React to Super Bowl Commercials, and Kids React to Furby. Between 2011 and 2012, the Fine Brothers applied for, and ultimately registered on the Principal Register, the marks KIDS REACT, ELDERS REACT, and TEENS REACT for their various video series, without much attention.
Then in 2015, the Fine Brothers filed an application to register the mark REACT per se, for "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" in Class 41. Right before the application published, the Fine Brothers announced the creation of REACT WORLD, a licensing program that would allow third parties to take a license for any one of the REACT marks, for use with video content.
The community posting at Reddit, a popular social news networking service, had some very strong reactions to the impending publication, and an intellectual property attorney offered pro bono services via Reddit to anyone that had standing to oppose the registration. In this case, the attorney did not need to look for an opposing party for very long. After losing hundreds of thousands of subscribers to their various YouTube® channels, the Fine Brothers expressly abandoned almost all of their trademark applications and registrations, discontinued the REACT WORLD licensing program, and rescinded all complaints made via YouTube®'s Content ID system against purported infringers. As it turns out, public outrage can be a very powerful tool, especially when YouTube® followers are at stake.
The takeaway for brand owners? When it comes to brand protection, consider the audience before trying to capture a particular space. In some contexts, consumers may react (no pun intended) negatively to perceived overreaching.
This article appeared in the February 2016 issue of MarkIt to Market. To view our past issues, as well as other firm newsletters, please click here.