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A Reddit community that gained widespread notoriety during the memestock craze of 2021 is at the center of a long-running trademark fight and a new lawsuit over the rights to the term WallStreetBets.
Jamie Rogozinski on Wednesday sued Reddit, claiming the social platform is infringing on his trademark, violating his right of publicity and breaking its own user agreement. Rogozinski, who describes himself in the complaint as an entrepreneur, investor and author, says he “built WallStreetBets from the ground up” to create a forum for people who took financial hits during the Great Recession. He founded the subreddit in January 2012 as a place “where individual, ordinary investors could openly and honestly discuss Wall Street and share advice with each other.”
After the group gained momentum and started getting coverage by the press — stories cited in the complaint have titles like “Meet the Bros Behind /r/WallStreetBets, Who Lose Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in a Day—And Brag About It” and “You Probably Shouldn’t Bet Your Savings on Reddit’s ‘Wallstreetbets’” — he sought to grow the brand.
He self-published a book in January 2020 called WallStreetBets: How Boomers Made the World’s Biggest Casino for Millennials and linked to its Amazon listing in the subreddit’s side bar. And, in March 2020, he announced a branded e-sports competition of sorts, a live trading competition that would “pit the country’s top traders against each other, using real money to see who is most skilled.”
Rogozinski alleges Reddit terminated him “as a moderator of his form, claiming he had violated company policy by ‘attempting to monetize a community.'” But, he thinks it’s actually because of the trademark application he filed on March 24, 2020, which the company filed an opposition to on Aug. 18, 2020.
“Reddit’s justification was a pretext — people use Reddit to market and sell everything from investment advice to bodily fluids,” states the complaint, which is embedded below. “On Reddit, just about everyone, to include aspiring pornographers and scam artists, can find a place, everyone that is except Mr. Rogozinski.”
On April 7, 2020 he was notified of a 7-day suspension from the platform, which he interpreted that to mean he’d be able to moderate WallStreetBets again after a week, which didn’t happen. He alleges he was deplatformed and Reddit is systematically asserting ownership of popular subreddits to support its IPO.
The complaint doesn’t mention that he and the platform had been in active settlement negotiations in a U.S. Patent & Trademark Office proceeding from October 2020 until last week.
“This is a completely frivolous lawsuit with no basis in reality,” a Reddit spokesperson said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Jaime was removed as a moderator of r/WallStreetBets by Reddit and banned by the community moderators for attempting to enrich himself. This lawsuit is another transparent attempt to enrich himself. It’s telling that he is filing this suit three years after he was banned by r/WallStreetBets and long after the community rose in mainstream popularity without his involvement. We’ll respond directly in court and continue to protect the best interests of the communities and moderators on our platform.”
According to a Reddit spokesperson, Rogozinski was banned from r/WallStreetBets by members of the community for violating the subreddit’s rules against self-promotion.
In another community, r/SubredditDrama, a user details other allegations against Rogozinski, whose Reddit alias is Jartek. That post says Rogozinski was suspected to have multiple alt accounts that he used to promote True Trading Group, which was set to sponsor that e-sports event, and that the other WSB moderators found out he’d planned to sell exclusive advertising rights on WallStreetBets to TTG.
Rogozinski says his removal as a moderator of WSP cost him “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in book sales, and “his company lost its contract for the e-sports trading competition in Texas, costing him millions of dollars.”
A Reddit spokesperson notes that fellow WSB moderators banned him in April 2020 — well before memestock operations involving GameStop and AMC made WallStreetBets go viral — and he’s effectively asking to take over the subreddit which has thrived without his involvement. The company rep says the damages Rogozinski is seeking shows he’s putting his financial interests before that of the community.
In response to the new complaint, Reddit also says no one “owns” a community on the site and it’s the collaboration and contributions of many users that makes its various subreddits unique.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the fight is back on after being paused for more than two years while the parties attempted to settle the matter. Rogozinski is attempting to trademark WallStreetBets for four classes of goods: printed matter such as magazines and books (Class 16), clothing (Class 25), online forums for various kinds of trading (Class 38), and entertainment services including electronic game competitions (Class 41).
In its opposition to Rogozinski’s trademark application, Reddit notes that while moderators can create subreddits — using Reddit’s tools on Reddit’s platform — they can’t delete them or change their names, and it has the authority to take control of a subreddit if it’s in the best interest of the community.
“Reddit seeks trademark protection over certain subreddit names to protect the communal interest and inherent creativity that lives within each subreddit,” states the Aug. 8, 2020 filing. “This also helps prevent any confusion and ensures that none of the content is misused by unauthorized third parties, outside the platform.”
The company notes in its opposition that a trademark examining attorney had previously rejected the applications for Class 16 goods because a single creative work (his book) isn’t enough and Class 38 services because the screenshot he attached to the application showed Reddit’s use of the trademark, not his. Reddit argued granting Rogozinski’s trademark applications would likely cause confusion with its own mark, which it applied for on May 11, 2020. The USPTO in Feb. 2021 notified Reddit that its application is suspended until a determination is made on Rogozinski’s, since he filed first.
The parties asked the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to suspend the proceeding about a dozen times over the course of two-plus years while they were engaged in good faith settlement talks. Those apparently broke down sometime between Jan. 19, the last time they asked for a pause, and Feb. 7, when Reddit filed a motion to resume the matter.
According to the Feb. 7 filing, “Reddit and Applicant Jaime Rogozinski, through counsel, engaged in good faith settlement discussions but were not able to resolve the dispute. … [T]here is no longer good cause for the suspension as settlement discussions have ended.”
The USPTO officially reopened the proceeding on Wednesday, and dates for discovery, disclosures and briefs have been set through the end of the year. The first case management conference in the lawsuit is currently set for May 16.
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