Image via Wikimedia Commons
Trademarks can be a tricky situation, especially when it comes to moving a word from the vernacular to a brand–and it gets even trickier when its the handle for a budding and still-amorphous online community. "Gaymer," is the title of a subreddit group r/Gaymers has been battling with Chris Vizzini, founder of a gaming site called Gaymer.org, who trademarked the term in 2008. The fight over word ownership is officially over as of last week, when a court officially revoked Vizzini's trademark, leading the blogger to shut down his website.
Vizzini created his website in 2003 to build community for LGBT individuals interested in video games. He believed that even if there was a group of people outside his website who called themselves gaymers, they were "not vocal about it" and there was not an openly gay gaming site that functioned as well as Gaymer.org.
Although, he never claimed to have invented the term, his trademark was meant to help him use "gaymer" for online commerce and service. He once said in a Reddit post that his goal "was to maximize the traffic for my site" and that Reddit was diverging clicks away from Gaymer.org. At one point, he claimed that 15 percent of his site's profit would go to gay charity groups. Redditers, however, were not pleased with his ownership claims.
Since Vizzini's trademark was approved in March 2008, there have been arguments and debates within the 16,000 plus members of the subreddit, including threatening posts:
If you give up the trademark now, that will be the end of it. reddit will not pursue you. But if you don't, reddit will hunt you, reddit will find you, and reddit will sue your ass until it hurts.
Many of the r/Gaymer members posted evidence that points to groups and studies that identify the word's use prior to Vizzini's site. One redditer, linked to an email from 1991 where an individual describes himself as a gaymer, and another cited a study from 2006, perhaps the first academic study of a gamer subgroup that included a survey of gay gamers and how they identify themselves online.
The arguments and ownership claims led to Vizzini's sending a cease and desist letter to the Reddit group moderators last September, which only made the situation more contentious. The moderators even made a separate subreddit called r/Internauts where members could seek refuge until the situation was dealt with.
This past January, the subreddit worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to file a petition to cancel the trademark, undoubtedly motivated by Vizzini's cease and desist letter. Vizzini responded with a motion to dismiss the petition, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark rejected his motion and revoked his trademark last week.
After losing his trademark, Vizzini decided to shut down Gaymer.org, writing in a goodbye post that "I was just emotionally drained." He said he regretted sending a cease and desist letter, and should have instead just contacted the subreddit moderators directly. The blogger also called out the faceless members of r/Gaymers whose "claws were out and viciousness ruled. It was like being stuck in a loop for the gay version of Mean Girls."
The EFF Intellectual Property Director, Corynne McSherry, summed it up well when she said, "the real tragedy is that this term was ever registered for a trademark in the first place." Gay gamers can now troll the internet and share links to LGBT-themed issues of The Escapist without fear; "Gaymer" is protected by free speech and can be used by anyone. The website, though, is gone.