Over the past few years, the rise in popularity of a genre of You- Tube videos known as “reaction videos” has resulted in controversy for various reasons. The United States District Court in Hosseinzadeh v. Klein, a landmark case for the genre, described the “reaction videos” as “a large genre of YouTube videos . . . [that] vary widely in terms of purpose, structure, and the extent to which they rely on potentially copyrighted material.” According to the Hosseinzadeh opinion, “[s]ome reaction videos. . .intersperse short segments of another’s work with criticism and commentary, while others are more akin to a group viewing session without commentary.” Essentially, reaction videos are exactly what the name suggests: a video showing a person or group of people reacting to the work of another, which by nature requires the incorporation of the work being reacted to for the viewer’s reference.
The first time that controversy arose out of the “reaction” genre was in 2015 when the Fine Brothers, the creators of a popular YouTube channel known for its “Kids React” series along with several other “reaction video” series, applied to trademark the term “react.” The brothers did so with the intention to create a program called “React World,” through which they would license out the “reaction video” format to other video creators. This endeavor came not long after the Fine Brothers criticized Ellen DeGeneres for allegedly using their “re- action” format in a segment on her television show, suggesting the brothers’ belief that they were the sole owners of what is, in reality, a widely-used format. As a result, YouTube viewers became distrustful of the Fine Brothers’ intentions in trademarking the format, and viewers criticized them to the point that they issued a public apology in February of 2016 in which they announced their decision to “[r]escind all. . .‘React’ trademarks and applications” and “[d]iscontinue the React World program.”
Later in 2016, reaction videos would again become the subject of controversy when Ethan and Hila Klein, the husband-and-wife creators of the popular YouTube comedy channel H3H3 Productions, were sued by Matt Hosseinzadeh of the decidedly less popular You- Tube channel, Matt Hoss Zone, for copyright infringement. Hosseinzadeh alleged copyright infringement for the use of segments of his video, “Bold Guy vs. Parkour Girl,” in a humorous reaction video made by the Kleins.8 What resulted was the aforementioned Hosseinzadeh v. Klein opinion, which set a precedent that will hopefully allow future reaction video creators to produce and share content without their creativity being stifled by the looming risk of copyright infringement lawsuits.
Hosseinzadeh alleged that a video, which was part of a series of videos, starring himself as “Bold Guy,” “in which the Bold Guy flirts with a woman and chases her through various sequences” was infringement. Hosseinzadeh alleged that the Kleins’ video entitled “The Big, The BOLD, The Beautiful,” infringed upon “Bold Guy vs. Parkour Girl,” as it featured the couple “comment[ing] on and criticiz[ing] [his] video, playing portions of it in the process.” Accepting the Kleins’ motion for summary judgment, which pleaded the fair use defense, the court held that its “review of the. . .videos makes it clear that [the claim] in which plaintiff alleges that defendants in- fringed plaintiff’s copyrights, must be decided in defendants’ favor.”
Gretchen L. Casey,
Courts React: Popularity of YouTube's Reaction Video Genre Sparks New Discussion on Fair Use Defense,
Tex. A&M J. Prop. L.
Available at: https://doi.org/10.37419/JPL.V5.I3.6