Can you trademark a community? Reddit's r/gaymers hit with cease-and-desist letter
For well over a year, Reddit’s r/gaymers has been a refuge—a place to get away from the casual homophobia that’s rampant in many mainstream gaming communities and to have some fun. Now the community’s very name is at risk, thanks to a cease-and-desist letter from the website Gaymer.org.
But can you trademark a community’s identity?
In 2003, Chris Vizzini launched a website that he hoped to turn into a "Gay and Gay friendly webspace for gamers to come together and get their video game on.” It featured news and forums. Vizzini named it Gaymer.org, and in 2007, he trademarked the word “gaymer.”
The term, a portmanteau of “gay” and “gamer,” surely counts as one of the most obvious game-related neologisms of the past 20 years, however. Gamer and gaymer are homophones, after all; the only difference is that one includes a silent “y.”
“I think a million gay gamers independently coined the phrase ‘gaymer,’” Redditor UNHDude wrote. “I think I've been calling myself a gaymer for probably 11 years, since I first realized I was gay. It's just too easy of a term to put together.”
Indeed, the term had been in use long before Vizzini filed to own it. Gaymer may have been coined as far back as 1997 on a USENET discussion forum. (“As a gay gamer (gaymer?) it's difficult to feel a part of a hobby that so far I've only had straight friends in,” a user named Nick Nova wrote.)
In 2002, gaming site Gamegrene declared it was time to add gaymer to the “gamer lexicon.” Meanwhile, Urban Dictionary, the user-curated dictionary for slang, includes entries for “gaymer” from as early as 2006.
In 2011, redditor MisterGhost appropriated the term to create r/gaymers, a forum on Reddit. The subreddit has grown steadily since, boasting 16,000 subscribers and an active community that frequently hosts multiplayer gaming events and video chats.
Last week, Vizzini sent a cease-and-desist letter to Reddit staff, asking them to change the community’s name, citing his 2007 trademark. The Reddit community was outraged.
“Members of our community also feel strongly because this guy essentially trademarked our word for who we are,which is kind of a dick move if you ask me,” r/gaymers moderator joeycastillo told the Daily Dot.
Vizzini took the fight to r/gaymers itself, with a firm if politely worded post that defended his position. He wasn’t trademarking the name itself, he said, just its use for a website that hosts an online community.
“As a trademark and word mark holder, it’s my responsibility to defend the marks, otherwise I could lose them,” he wrote.
“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.”
Vizzini may want to be careful taking this to court, however: If a court finds the term has become generic through common use, it can rule the initial trademark filing invalid. (Vizzini did not respond to a request for comment on this story.)
“My hope is that the trademark is challenged,” r/gaymer moderator d_anio told the Daily Dot, “because it is invalid and not only is it hurting our community now, it has the potential to harm other online Gaymer communities.”
For now, the issue will likely be resolved out of court. Vizzini said he’s not interested in forcing the community itself to shut down. He just wants a name change. Reddit staff have indicated they’re willing to help out with that, though community name changes are quite rare on the site.
“In a perfect world we'd challenge the trademark, convince the [United States Patent and Trademark Office] to render it invalid, and reclaim the word ‘gaymer’ for gay gamers everywhere,” joeycastillo told the Daily Dot. “But priority one for us is keeping this community and its history intact; Reddit is helping us out with that, and I for one am really grateful.”
Photo via LucianLutrae/Quickmeme