What’s the Difference Between Reacting to Content and Stealing it?

Minur/Shutterstock | AnyaLis/Shutterstock | HasanAbi/YouTube | SSSniperWolf/YouTube | xQc Reacts/YouTube

One of the most complicated, popular, and outright controversial parts of the creator economy is the reactor. Whether it’s a YouTuber emoting to a compilation of TikToks or a Twitch streamer showing their audience an entire season of MasterChef, reaction content is incredibly popular across all platforms. 

“It’s popular with streamers because the viewers like it,” Twitch streamer Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo told Passionfruit. “It’s popular with viewers because they can see what their opinions are supposed to look like because people like to see what the opinions of those creators are.”  

But to react to content, you technically have to take it from the person who originally posted it. On YouTube, anyone can issue a copyright strike against a video they feel has stolen their content, gaining the ad revenue of the repost. Large television and movie studios use automated detection and have the resources to defend themselves by issuing copyright claims on videos that use their content, which can sometimes deter reactors. But YouTubers’ videos can be watched with ease, and they have to issue their own copyright strikes to deter theft. 

This creates an ethical quandary, and viewers and streamers alike have to ask the question: is reacting a problem? 

xQc Doesn’t Care

Felix “xQc” Lengyel is one of the largest streamers online, with nearly 12 million followers on Twitch. He recently signed a $100 million deal with Kick. On most days of the week, he’ll stream for upwards of 10 hours a day and needs to find ways to fill the time. Though he does play video games and interacting with his chat, he spends an inordinate amount of time just watching other people’s content while not really saying much. He’ll nod his head alongside videos of YouTube drama, TikTok videos, or even the entirety of the “Dark Knight” (which led Kick moderators to scold him in his chat). 

YouTuber NeoExplain even posted a clip showing Lengyel playing his entire 10-minute video on stream while the streamer wasn’t even at his computer. He added a graph of his video’s views after Lengyel reacted and there was no jump in viewership.

“The entire video (except the sponsor end that pays my bills) was shown on stream, so there is no need for people to look up my video after,” NeoExplains wrote. 

Lengyel became the center of controversy this week after a tweet pointing out that the streamer clips his reactions to his main channel, potentially eliminating the views the original would have gotten, eventually getting into a Twitter back-and-forth with commentator Mutahar. Just watching the videos on Twitch isn’t too problematic, but when you reupload the entire video with little to no commentary on another channel, like xQcReacts, it can throw off the original video in the algorithm and steal views. 

“Nothing inherently is triggering when you view live content on a different platform,” Mutahar tweeted. “It’s when you re-upload the content to the same platform and have it copy the same metadata to further cannibalize.” 

Lengyel defended his reactions and reuploads, writing that he is just “watching a vid I like to my people,” that his watching these videos doesn’t impact the original’s views, and that he talks “to most of the YouTubers I take big content pieces.” In other words, he claims it’s harmless.

Other streamers that heavily use react content have weighed in on the situation. World of Warcraft streamer Zach “Asmongold” believes that you should “try and promote the creators you watch” and that you need to “provide commentary.”  YouTuber LegacyKillaHD tweeted that it’s “depressing” that “a massive streamer uploading their “reaction” with the thumbnail stolen gets 5 times the views.” 

This is far from the first time there’s been criticism of how popular streamers react. In February 2022, YouTuber DarkViperAU posted a 14-page Google Doc about why the practice of reacting is itself unethical. 

“They take a video that took 500 hours of labour to make, spend 20 minutes watching it, and put it back into the market as something “new” containing 500 hours and 20 minutes of labour,” DarkViperAU wrote.

Political commentator Hasan Piker, who has also been accused of putting out low quality react content responded to the drama labeled “ReactGate” with a tweet writing “It’s wild that this is even a convo when most people love watching it.”

What is Transformative Content? 

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, in order for a piece of media to fall under the legal doctrine of “fair use,” it needs to be “transformative,” not only use a “large portion of the copyrighted work,” and whether its “use is hurting the current market for the original work” (for example, if it steals views from the original video). Most react videos never reach the courts; more often than not, reactors just take the videos down rather than fighting it out in court. 

Except in 2016, Matt Hosseinzadeh sued Hila and Ethan Klein of the comedy channel h3 Productions, alleging copyright infringement for the use of segments of his videos in their own. The Kleins eventually won their case in 2017 setting a precedent for what transformative content actually means. 

“Any review of the Klein video leaves no doubt that it constitutes critical commentary of the Hoss video; there is also no doubt that the Klein video is decidedly not a market substitute for the Hoss video,” Judge Katherine B. Forrest wrote in her ruling. “For these and the other reasons set forth below, defendants’ use of clips from the Hoss video constitutes fair use as a matter of law.”

Reactions are endemic to the streaming ecosystem, so they feel like an inevitability. People are going to watch videos to fill their time and entertain their audience, but they don’t necessarily need to leave an empty chair on their webcam to do so.

“I don’t really think anything needs to change. I think that everything’s fine,” Rinaudo said. “I don’t think you need to see reactions go down or anything like that. The people like it. A lot of YouTubers like when streamers create an ad for their content.”

Rinaudo got his start in 2018 by creating documentaries of streamers, who then reacted to his videos and grew his influence. He’s seen the conversation about reaction content continue for “four to five years” and continues to repost some of his reactions on his second channel (though he does credit and link to the original video). 

“For big content creators, it doesn’t matter,” Rinaudo said. “It’s the middle content creators that sometimes can get a hit to their channel and hate from it.” 

But what Lengyel and the dozens of other top streamers do is hardly transformative. Sitting in front of a webcam, making sighs or funny faces while a video that someone spent dozens of hours making is rarely additive. Though the streamer’s audience may be introduced to a creator they wouldn’t otherwise know about, it’s unlikely that this new group of potential viewers even went to the channel afterward. Since that’s where the added benefits end, it’s hard to side with the streamer putting in the bare minimum for content. 

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