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YouTube stars' selfish act backfires

Film-makers of 'reaction videos' incur wrath of netizens after trying to trademark genre


A dubious move to capitalise on an entire genre of videos has backfired spectacularly on two YouTube film-makers.

Benny Fine and Rafi Fine, from Fine Brothers Entertainment, are known for short clips in which they film the reactions of people watching trending videos.

These "reaction videos" have titles such as "Elders react to Twerking" or "Teens react to Gangnam Style".

The channel has more than 13 million subscribers and many of the clips have racked up millions of views. Things took a turn for the worse for the brothers when they tried to trademark and license this popular "react" format.

This meant that any user who wanted to use it would have to pay the brothers reportedly as much as half their revenue share.

On top of that, the Fine brothers, through a related arm named Fullscreen Inc, started serving takedown notices to other channels that had earlier put up such videos without permission.

The digitally altered image (above) that won Nikon's contest. PHOTOS: NIKON/FACEBOOK

The digitally altered image that won Nikon’s contest spawned many humorous copies, such as the one above featuring Godzilla. PHOTOS: GLENN GUAN/FACEBOOK


    CHINESE NEW YEAR: Despite having the smallest population in Asia, Singapore ranks top in "Chinese New Year" searches, said tech giant Google. Searches for "AngPao" or red packets, have also increased by more than 12 times year-on-year.

    #BEFOREFACEBOOKI: Do you remember what life was like before everyone started jumping on the social media bandwagon? Comedy Central show @midnight had netizens share their experiences with this hashtag. "Before Facebook I didn't 'LIKE' things like funerals and divorces," said user Chris Hardwick.

    #KITASEMUAPENGHASUT: Malaysian graphic designer Fahmi Reza was warned by the authorities that his Twitter account had been placed under surveillance after he posted an image of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as a clown. Soon, members of an art collective, Grupa, all began posting clownish images in solidarity with the hashtag that translates as "we are all seditious".

Needless to say, the backlash was monstrous. Those on the receiving end - typically smaller YouTube channels with fewer than 100,000 subscribers - started posting rants about the notices. "They make money reacting to people's content, but when people want to make money reacting to their content, it's no good. It's no good at all," said Mr Eric Perez, who helms the channel 8-Bit Eric.

Observers also pointed to the silliness of trying to trademark and license such a popular format, which by many accounts was first popularised by Bill Cosby's Kids Say The Darnedest Things in the 1990s.

The brothers received numerous hate mail and at least one copyright lawyer offered his services to affected YouTubers pro bono.

"These guys didn't come up with the idea of filming funny reactions from kids," said video-game attorney Ryan Morrison. "And they certainly don't own an entire genre of YouTube videos. It wasn't their idea and it's not theirs to own or police."

In a span of a week, the Fine Brothers were hit where it hurt them the most - they lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers. As a result, the duo backtracked on their earlier decision and rescinded their trademark claims.

"We're here to apologise," the brothers said later in a note. "We realise we built a system that could easily be used for wrong. We are fixing that."

Whether the Fine brothers have truly seen the error of their ways, however, remains to be seen.


A fantastically timed shot of a plane framed by a ladder in Chinatown turned out to be too good to be true, as Japanese camera maker Nikon found out earlier last week.

Nikon selected the image, submitted by photography enthusiast Chay Yu Wei, 27, as a winner for a contest. The prize was a Nikon trolley bag.

Sharp-eyed netizens, however, quickly pointed out that the image had been shoddily doctored.

This was followed by scores of sarcastic comments and hilariously altered images, which included Godzilla, James Bond and Snoopy superimposed on the image, posted to Nikon's Facebook page.

Facebook user Glenn Guan said: "Such a poor copy and paste by Yu Wei can win a Nikon trolley bag, my entry can win the new Nikon D5."

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin posted a photo of an Apache helicopter in mid-flight at Marina Bay with the caption: "This is worth several trolley bags I think. Can I trade it for a Nikon D5?"

The incident also made its rounds abroad. Canon Canada, for example, asked its fans to send in their best photos of airplanes. "Extra points for creative use of photo editing software to put planes in surprising places."

Overwhelmed by the response, Mr Chay eventually owned up and apologised to "fellow photographers" on his Instagram page. He explained that he did it in jest as he felt that a plane "at that spot would make for an interesting point of view".

He also made a mistake by submitting it for a competition instead of keeping the altered image on his Instagram account.

"I meant it as a joke and I'm really sorry to Nikon for disrespecting the competition," he said.

Nikon removed the controversial image last Sunday. "We recognise that the image.. . is not a reflection of photography. As such, (it) should not have a place beside other good contributions from the community that represent this standard," it said.

It is not known if Mr Chay eventually collected the prize.


Would you bring a stranger who does not speak a word of English to a clinic, or stay with him throughout the consultation?

That was what one woman did, as recounted by a clinic assistant known as Abigail on the Humans of Singapore Facebook page.

Abigail witnessed the heart-warming incident at her clinic in Boon Keng. The patient, a 21-year-old Indian foreign worker, was lost after having travelled alone from Buona Vista. He approached the lady, who subsequently escorted him to the clinic and sat through the consultation with the doctor so the two could communicate.

Abigail said she was worried that the recent arrests of 27 radicalised Bangladeshis under the Internal Security Act would affect relations between Singaporeans and foreign workers. "This sort of thinking would tear at the fabric of our diverse society. But this lady proved me wrong," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2016, with the headline 'YouTube stars' selfish act backfires'. Print Edition | Subscribe