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Reddit's 'Gaymer' Community Rejects Site Owner's Trademark

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Minority groups and labels have always had a complicated, sometimes tense relationship.

The terms and monikers concocted by dominant cultures are often reclaimed, taken back and reworked for the group's own purposes. The term queer is the most common example from the LGBT experience. Other times, though, the groups think of their own nomenclature, one created to provide linguistic insulation from a hostile culture. For example, video game-loving gay people call themselves "gaymers," hence the name of Chris Vizzini's website, Gaymer.org.

Vizzini trademarked that expression, and has been trying to get reddit's "gaymer" community to find a new terminology. To make clear he means business, he sent reddit a cease and desist letter demanding the popular site create its own designation.

Furious flesh-and-blood gaymers on reddit have now filed a petition with the U.S. Trademarks and Patents Office to take back "gaymer." According to them, gaymer belongs to the community and should therefore be exempt from copyright status.

Ars Technica outlines the case and the gaymer case:

The "gaymer" trademark is claimed by Chris Vizzini, who also blogs at his website, gaymer.org. Vizzini sent a cease-and-desist letter to Reddit complaining about the /r/gaymers subreddit. That got the group's attention, and caused it to lawyer up. /r/gaymers now has pro bono lawyers from a major law firm, Perkins Coie, as well as from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The purpose of trademark law is to protect consumers by making sure they know the true origin of goods and services. The /r/gamers petition, prepared by lawyers at Perkins Coie and EFF, argues that Vizzini's trademark is a distortion of the law's purpose, and should be canceled.

"This registration should never have been granted," said EFF lawyer Corynne McSherry in a statement today. "Gaymer is a common term that refers to members of this vibrant gaming community, and we are happy to help them fight back and make sure the term goes back to the public domain where it belongs."

The lawsuit points out, "Public use of the word gaymer dates back to at least the early 1990s, when a growing group of individuals within the gaming community began using it to identify themselves."

"Due to this long period of widespread, generic use, the relevant public has come to recognize gaymer as a common term for individuals within the LGBT community who have an active interest in video games and the online video game community," it reads.

To that point, reddit user Ozuri wrote a post about their own adoption of the term, and how it's interlaced with his or her identity:

… I grew up in an age when being a nerd was not a synonym for tech savvy entrepreneur with a high-paying job at Google; it meant social stigma, awkward interactions with peers and coming in last on the day we ran laps. Coupled with the crippling anxiety of being gay (and for me, being from an evangelical Christian background), being a gay nerd who loved video games was the proverbial hat trick of otherness...

For me, it is the marrying of my hobby and a part of my identity that allowed me to grow into my own as an adult. I am a gaymer.

Mr. Vizzini, you keep using the word 'gaymer'; I do not think it means what you think it means. To the rest of us, it means community. It means pride in our differentness and our small community. It means inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness.

Vizzini defended himself last September, when the embers of this public war were only just beginning to burn on reddit, and told the community there that he was simply defending what was rightfully his:

As a trademark and word mark holder, it's my responsibility to defend the marks, otherwise I could lose them.

I started Gaymer.org in 2003 and began to build Gaymer as a brand. Thats why I trademarked and word marked the name. At that time, there was only one other site around dedicated to gay gamers. I have spent countless hours and thousands of dollars on Gaymer.org. I have done so gladly as it's brought happiness to many people.

I have received many nasty emails and comments on my site, not to mention what's been said on the reddit site.

I cannot stress this enough. I have no problem with other gay gaming sites. I think it's great others exist. The only problem I have is when the Gaymer name is used. That infringes on the word mark. A perfect example of this is gaygamer.net. Its a great website for gay gamers but does not use "gaymer" in its name therefore I have no problem.

It's only when "gaymer" is used in the site name that causes confusion to the public. That is what word marking is all about.

What say you, reader? Does Vizzini have a valid point or is he unnecessarily trying to take a public term private?

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Comments

  1. Typically this case would make no sense, as the purpose of a trademark is usually to TRADE under the mark for merchandise (i.e. Gaymer™ t-shirts or mousepads, etc.). In this case, though, the mark is specifically for services, specifically online services.

    Actual search of United States Patent and Trademark Office: "Word Mark GAYMER
    Goods and Services IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: Computer services, namely, creating an online community for registered users to participate in competitions, showcase their skills, get feedback from their peers, form virtual communities, engage in social networking and improve their talent; Computer services, namely, hosting and maintaining an online website for others to discuss, receive and disseminate information concerning video games; Computer services, namely, hosting on-line web facilities for others for organizing and conducting online meetings, gatherings, and interactive discussions. FIRST USE: 20030526. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20030526"

    He clearly has the trade-mark and the right to defend it.

    Posted by: Strepsi | Jan 24, 2013 8:31:55 AM


  2. I have an issue with the whole trademark / word marking system and I don't believe a person/corporate entity should be able to trademark commonly used terms.

    Posted by: Phoenix Justice | Jan 24, 2013 8:37:40 AM


  3. the trademark should never have been granted, the term was in use prior to his claim. i can remember it being coined as game communities shunned and shamed players who made no secret of their sexual orientation.

    Posted by: bandanajack | Jan 24, 2013 8:42:16 AM


  4. Reminds me of the 1980s lawsuit that the IOCC filed against Dr. Thomas Waddell over his usage of "Gay Olympics". Despite the fact that the word Olympics had been in popular use for over 2000 years, and the fact that the IOCC had allowed the word Olympics to be used for everything from the Special Olympics to the Nebraska Rat Olympics, the IOCC objected on homophobic grounds to gay people appropriating the term, and they successfully sued Waddell. Although dying from AIDS at the time, Waddell was forced into bankrupcy and lost his home. He died in 1987; but his athletic event was reborn as the Gay Games, and it lives on.

    Our whole system of intellectual property, from trademarks to patents, is seriously screwed up.

    Posted by: BZ | Jan 24, 2013 8:48:10 AM


  5. He clearly has the trademark, but was it granted improperly? It's a common term used in the community. It should never have been trademarked.

    Posted by: Jeff M | Jan 24, 2013 8:48:49 AM


  6. Andrew, I'm among your staunchest defenders, but a point can be made for brevity.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jan 24, 2013 9:17:37 AM


  7. I have heard and used the word gaymer many times before the year 2003. This guy should never have been allowed to trademark this word.

    Posted by: Tristy | Jan 24, 2013 9:33:24 AM


  8. That he has the trademark is not the issue. He never should have been able to receive it in the first place. He want's to copyright a logo or "gaymer.org?" Fine. But owning the rights to the term "gaymer" is ludicrous. It's like trying to trademark the word "twink" or "bear."

    Posted by: shibby | Jan 24, 2013 9:38:29 AM


  9. this is the most eye-rolling, asininely "first world complaint" since "Trekkie VS Trekker"

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jan 24, 2013 9:48:57 AM


  10. As a gaymer, I find Vizzini's attempt to copyright one of my identities absolutely ludicrous. That term has been around much longer than his website, and the ignorance of the US Patent and Trade Office should never have granted him the trademark in the first place.

    Posted by: Phillip | Jan 24, 2013 9:53:25 AM


  11. This is incredibly stupid, but it's not useless! The EFF can use this as a nice example of the overreach copyright inherently has.

    Posted by: Fensox | Jan 24, 2013 10:15:09 AM


  12. Strepsi:

    > He clearly has the trade-mark and the right to defend it.

    No.

    The granting of a trademark is, in practice, provisional. Trademark offices don't spend hours doing exhaustive searches for prior use, they don't have the resources.

    The idea is: they grant the trademark. If the trademark holder then threatens someone else with it, that person will then do all the research to get evidence on prior use. Using the evidence, they'll apply to the trademark office to have the TM declared invalid. The trademark office can then look at the evidence and say whether they agree. Less work for them than having to do the research themselves.

    The point is, that a trademark has been granted is not good evidence that it shouldn't be invalid.

    Posted by: Simon | Jan 24, 2013 10:26:50 AM


  13. Also, Fensox, Phillip, Andrew and others:

    TRADEMARK IS NOT THE SAME AS COPYRIGHT. Stop calling them copyright, you're just confusing people.

    Posted by: Simon | Jan 24, 2013 10:29:09 AM


  14. This is a tricky one. If reddit is using the word gaymer solely to refer to its online gaming community members, but not to offer "computer services, namely....", they might be fine. On the other hand, the wording "creating online communities" in the trademark registration is problematic and weirdly worded and supports Vizzini's claims. That one section in the registration may ultimately be struck as being generic. I suspect this may be resolved with a settlement agreement limiting how reddit may use the mark and amending the description of services in the registration.

    Posted by: Acronym Jim | Jan 24, 2013 10:41:58 AM


  15. PaulR, I had the same thought; seems like an awful lot of copy for an issue that's really pretty marginal.

    Posted by: Butch | Jan 24, 2013 10:42:07 AM


  16. Let the internet troll have his trademark. He'll do little or nothing with it. Reddit can find a better, more inclusive term/name to serve their community.

    Posted by: Gay person that plays games | Jan 24, 2013 10:51:18 AM


  17. Kiwi, I am sure that the gaymer community is mortified that this issue does not meet your standards of importance. Perhaps you could instruct everyone in your lofty pursuit of bettering the world via blogging and commenting?

    Posted by: OddBet | Jan 24, 2013 11:00:17 AM


  18. I second Simon's post. Conflating those terms is stupid.

    Posted by: unruly | Jan 24, 2013 11:27:09 AM


  19. Vizzini didn't invent the word "gaymer," he trademarked a term that was already in use and is now trying to claim exclusive right to use it, basically taking it away from others. That doesn't fly.

    Posted by: Caliban | Jan 24, 2013 11:34:11 AM


  20. If I'm not mistaken, Vizzini said Reddit could continue to use the term "gaymer" months ago. So why are they sending lawyers after him? Reddit is being the bully here, not Vizzini.

    And why punish Vizzini, who has had the word for something like a decade, when it seems that everyone is annoyed with the government for granting him the word mark? Send lawyers after the government! Don't penalize this kid for 1) doing everything legally he was supposed to and 2) trying to live the American dream. The whole thing is beyond petty. He let it go! Why be so nasty, Reddit?

    Posted by: Bakeley | Jan 24, 2013 11:37:00 AM


  21. > So why are they sending lawyers after him? Reddit is being the bully here, not Vizzini.

    You're confused. No-one's sending lawyers after him. The legal petition mentioned is to the USPTO, asking them to invalidate the trademark. /r/gaymers isn't trying to get the trademark itself, and definitely hasn't sent a C&D or threatened to sue Vizzini. The only person who's sent a C&D is Vizzini, to reddit.

    > And why punish Vizzini, who has had the word for something like a decade

    No-one's trying to punish him. They're trying to stop him using the trademark to punish /r/gaymers. Invalidating a trademark isn't a punishment, it doesn't stop you using it yourself, only from being able to stop others from using it.

    Also, the whole point is that he shouldn't have been able to 'have' a word that people use to self-identify, and have done since long before gaymer.org.

    > Send lawyers after the government!

    That's exactly what has been done. Didn't you read the article you commented on?

    Posted by: Simon | Jan 24, 2013 11:59:28 AM


  22. @LittleKiwi Its Trekker, you Denebian slime devil!

    Posted by: JohnAGJ | Jan 24, 2013 12:25:59 PM


  23. JohnAGJ - i apologize. Now i'll make like Tasha Yar and die. Twice.

    ;-)

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jan 24, 2013 1:46:31 PM


  24. Thank you Simon! Please everyone, take a minute to study the difference between copyright and trademark. They are distinct concepts and each developed from different aspects of the law.

    BZ, the Olympics case was not a trademark case per se. Rather the mark is protected specifically by statute. 36 USC § 220506. FYI, the IOC has stopped the "Rat Olympics" as well.

    Posted by: Lano | Jan 24, 2013 1:48:52 PM


  25. BZ, I was wrong. 36 USC § 220506 was a response to conventional trademark cases such as San Francisco Arts & Athletics, Inc. v. U.S. Olympic Committee (the Gay Olympics case).

    Posted by: Lano | Jan 24, 2013 2:10:43 PM


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