The 4chan community site has been home to all manner of jokes, pranks, intentionally offensive imagery, and other juvenilia since it launched in 2003, but one thing it apparently takes very seriously is "Moot," the online handle of its founder, Christopher Poole.
As reported by the Betabeat website, attorneys for Poole sent a cease-and-desist letter to Moot.it, an Oregon-based startup that has yet to launch, alleging that the company's name infringes upon Poole's "protectable right of publicity." As the letter states:
Mr. Poole interacts with the massive 4chan community and publicly represents the website under the pseudonym MOOT, and has done so since its inception in 2003. Moot also utilizes the verified Twitter handle @MOOT and the email address firstname.lastname@example.org to promote 4chan. As a result of Mr. Poole's continuous efforts, the name MOOT has become firmly associated with Mr. Poole and 4chan.
As a result, the lawyers claim, "the term MOOT functions as a famous trademark utilized by 4chan."
It's not just the use of the name Moot that the 4chan founder takes issue with, though. The placeholder website at Moot.it (when it hasn't been knocked off the internet) says that the company intends to offer "forums and commenting re-imagined" – a purpose that Poole's lawyers claim too closely parallels the function of 4chan itself:
In view of the strong association in the minds of a substantial part of the Internet community between MOOT and commenting and discussion, it is unavoidable that your continued use of MOOT as a trademark would lead to confusion.
Naturally, the founders of Moot.it disagree, and they refuse to change the name of the company. In a letter addressing Poole's complaints, Moot.it's own attorneys argue that to describe 4chan as a comment and discussion site is a bit of a stretch.
4chan is primarily an image-sharing board, they contend; to post new topics, participants must attach images. (Poole originally founded the site as a place to share anime-related images, though it later evolved into what is perhaps the most patently NSFW site on the web.) By comparison, Moot.it's lawyers say:
Images, videos and the like – all of which detract from substantive, meaningful conversation – will not be part of the Moot experience. Rather, Moot is placing conversation at the forefront of the user experience. The aesthetic influence will be minimal and clear.
Ouch! Take that, /b/!
The letter goes on to state that there is no evidence that "Moot" is a term that identifies the goods or services provided by 4chan and that "'Moot' is not a trademark of 4chan anymore than 'Steve Jobs' was a trademark of Apple Inc."
Moot.it may be in some tricky territory there. Earlier this year, Apple threatened to sue Chinese toymaker InIcons over its plans to produce a Steve Jobs doll. Although the validity of the threat was questionable, the toy was eventually scrapped anyway, leaving the legal issue unresolved.
For their part, 4chan's legal beagles have yet to take any legal action against Moot.it beyond sending their letter, though they claim they could. In closing, they state:
Given that you have not begun use of the trademark, we respectfully suggest that you begin an orderly transition to a name that doesn't cause confusion with the rights of our client. Were you to begin use of MOOT.IT as a trademark, my client would have to investigate all options available to it.
Your Reg reporter can't help but note that those "options" might actually help clear up the alleged confusion. The Oxford English Dictionary lists one definition of moot as, "To complain, argue, plead, discuss, dispute, esp. in a law case; to bring an action to court, to litigate." ®