A group of Reddit users argue in a petition filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that the use of the term "gaymer" to identify their community on the site should remain in the public domain.
The petition was spurred by the video game blog Gaymer.org, created by blogger Chris Vizzini. Vizzini filed to register the trademark "gaymer" in 2007 after creating the site. Last August, the blogger sent a cease-and-desist letter to Reddit directed at the subreddit group "r/gaymers," claiming that the forum infringed his trademark rights for his own site.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group, along with the law firm Perkins Coie, filed the Jan. 23 petition suit on the Reddit users' behalf. The groups are asking the USPTO to cancel the registration for the term, which they say dates back to the early 1990s.
Gaymers, the Reddit group explains, are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community who have an active interest in video games. But the term's registration as a trademark, the petitioners claim, threatens the community's free speech. Cancelling the registration, they say, would allow the community to continue to use the word without interference.
The petition claims the term gaymer is merely descriptive, and that numerous third parties have used it as a generic term since before Vizzini used or sought registration for it.
"This is important because we believe that the ways that people choose to self-identify need to be free from encumbrance," said Zack Karlsson, who represents the moderators of the gaymer subreddit group. To Reddit users, and the more than 1 million gaymers in the United States alone, to have the name for their identity co-opted by an individual is unacceptable, he said.
"It's pretty obvious this is a common term," said EFF intellectual property director Corynne McSherry. "It should not have been registered in the first place." She adds that many others in the gaymer community are offended, and for good reason, that someone else would claim ownership of the term.
But the petition also holds larger significance given the changing social media landscape, McSherry said. Before the Internet, if a trademark registration was granted, the fallout would not be all that dramatic, she said.
But in the world of social media, it's all too easy to send a cease-and-desist letter to intermediaries such as Reddit, who often don't want to be in the middle of a trademark dispute, said McSherry. "Bogus" trademarks, therefore, stand to become a more serious problem than they were previously, she argues.
In Reddit's case, however, the site has not shut down the r/gaymers community as of yet, though threats from Vizzini persist, EFF said.
Vizzini could not be immediately reached for comment. It is not clear whether the LGBT community inspired or is connected in any way to his site, although the blogger sounds off on the gay community in a recent post.
The Reddit gaymer group frequently coordinates multi-player video games as well as voice and video chats for its 21,000 members. EFF says it could be several months before the petition is resolved.