Reddit’s Victory in Wall Street Bets Trademark Lawsuit Raises Concerns for Creators

In a legal battle over the ownership of WallStreetBets, the online platform that sparked the memestock phenomenon in 2021, the question arose: who owns the trademark, the platform or the individual who created the online community? U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney has ruled that Reddit, the primary user of the trademarks, is the rightful owner. The ruling, issued on Jan. 12, solidifies Reddit’s ownership of the intellectual property associated with the online forum as it was the first to use the marks.

The ruling has significant implications for personal brands monetizing on social media. It serves as a warning to creators that they may not own or have control over the intellectual property they develop, especially when it comes to platforms like Reddit that not only host third-party content but also create niche communities with distinct names and brands.

In recent years, retail investors have flocked to the WallStreetBets subreddit, which boasts over 13 million subscribers. The subreddit gained attention for its role in the short squeeze on GameStop and AMC Networks, challenging Wall Street giants and garnering mainstream media coverage, including a feature in the movie “Dumb Money” starring Paul Dano.

The legal dispute began when Jaime Rogozinksi, the founder of r/WallStreetBets, sued Reddit after being removed as moderator for attempting to monetize the community. Rogozinksi alleged that his termination was due to a trademark application he filed to register WallStreetBets. He claimed that Reddit opposed his application as part of an effort to assert ownership of popular subreddits to support its initial public offering (IPO). His lawsuit sought a court order declaring him the owner of the WallStreetBets and WSB marks.

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However, Judge Chesney dismissed the lawsuit, stating that Reddit established use and ownership of the WallStreetBets mark in 2012 when Rogozinksi created the subreddit. Ownership of a trademark is established through first utilization in the sale of goods and services, not just registration with regulators. The court rejected Rogozinksi’s argument that he is the “senior user” of the WSB mark in the cryptocurrency-related goods and services market, as there were no allegations that Reddit used the mark in that manner.

Additionally, Chesney dismissed Rogozinksi’s claims of violations of state law, such as right of publicity, breach of contract, and unfair competition, citing section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from liability for third-party content.

In response to Rogozinksi’s argument that he would not have spent eight years building an audience on the platform if he knew it could be seized by Reddit, the judge stated that the assertion of time spent is insufficient.

Neither Reddit nor Rogozinksi provided comments on the ruling.

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