The Law and Business of Social Media
July 31, 2023 - Section 230 Safe Harbor, Trademark

WallStreetBets Founder Loses Trademark Suit Against Reddit

In Jaime Rogozinski v. Reddit Inc, U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney for the Northern District of California dismissed WALLSTREETBETS Reddit community founder Jamie Rogozinski’s claims against Reddit for trademark infringement and dilution as well as various state law claims.

Rogozinski established WALLSTREETBETS in 2012 and served as its community moderator. The popular interest-specific subreddit community’s purpose is to inspire average Americans with the notion that they can succeed financially in the stock market.

In 2020, Rogozinski filed an application to register the trademark WALLSTREETBETS. He also posted a link in the forum’s sidebar to his book, and later posted a link to a live e-stock trading competition ran by a company he owned. In response, Reddit suspended Rogozinski’s account for seven days and prohibited him from moderating forums on Reddit. Reddit also filed its own application to register the WALLSTREETBETS mark.

Rogozinski then sued Reddit for trademark infringement, trademark dilution, violation of his right of publicity, breach of contract, violation of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, and unfair competition.

In examining Rogozinski’s trademark claims, the court concluded that Reddit, rather than Rogozinski, was the owner of the WALLSTREETBETS trademark. Rogozinski argued that he had created the name of the forum and that, through his moderation of the forum, members of the public had come to associate him with WALLSTREETBETS. The court held, however, that these facts did not mean that Rogozinski owned the WALLSTREETBETS trademark. Rather, Reddit owned the mark because Reddit was the party that used the mark in commerce in connection with operation of the WALLSTREETBETS. This holding spelled the end of Rogozinski’s trademark claims.

The court also held that Section 230 barred Rogozinski’s state law claims. As in many Section 230 cases, the primary issue was whether Rogozinski’s claims sought to hold Reddit liable as a publisher of someone else’s content. The court agreed with Reddit’s argument that content moderation—i.e., making decisions about what content and which users are permitted on the site—does qualify as publisher activity, holding that Rogozinski’s state law claims “seek to hold Reddit liable for publisher conduct, specifically, for either suspending Rogozinski from the r/WallStreetBets subreddit, banning him, and/or allowing the subreddit to continue to operate without him.” Accordingly, the court dismissed most of Rogozinski’s state law claims on Section 230 grounds.

The court held that Section 230 did not bar Rogozinski’s one remaining claim for unfair competition under the California Unfair Competition Law, which asserted that Reddit’s practice of claiming trademark rights in the names of subreddits was an unfair trade practice. However, the court dismissed the unfair competition claim for lack of standing.

This case is yet another in a recent flurry of cases concerning social media account ownership and control. Recently, we reported on former Bang Energy CEO Jack Owoc’s claims to own Bang’s social media accounts.