4Chan founder Chris Poole, who has gone by the username Moot since 2003, has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Oregon-based startup Moot.It, a yet-to-launch company that promises to reimagine forums and commenting. We initially suspected the letter might be a prank from /b/, but confirmed with Mr. Poole’s lawyer, Martin Schwimmer, that it is indeed real.
Mr. Schwimmer, a partner at White Plains law firm Leason Ellis, writes that because Mr. Poole is so closely aligned with the username Moot, any attempt by Moot.It to use the name could result in confusion from users who may wrongfully believe Mr. Poole is associated with the company.
Courtney Couch, founder of Moot.It, says that the company refuses to change the name. Moot.It is much like Disqus, a service that gives third-party websites a customizable commenting space, and Mr. Couch feels the name fits the company’s mission well. They did not get the name from Moot the person, instead using it based on its definition of “open to discuss or debate.”
“We decided on ‘Moot’ because we felt it was descriptive of the ultimate goals of the company, namely, to foster meaningful and substantive dialogue,” Mr. Couch told Betabeat.
“When I saw the letter, I did a double take,” Mr. Couch said. “Without being an expert on the law, it didn’t seem right that an individual could try to strong arm me out of using a name that bears only a tangential relationship to his product and online persona. Although I wouldn’t necessarily call 4chan a “Goliath” of the internet, Poole has certainly taken the Goliath position on this.”
In an email to Betabeat, Mr. Schwimmer insisted that the letter is not necessarily a C&D, as ”there is no ‘demand’ in the letter and there is nothing to ‘cease’ as apparently the company is not in business as of yet.” Rather the letter, excerpted below, “respectfully suggest[s]” that Moot.It find a new name:
As such, the pseudonym MOOT has become part of Mr. Poole’s protectable right of publicity under New York State law (and other state laws) and the term MOOT functions as a famous trademark utilized by 4chan….
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….
We note that your site refers to an upcoming launch and doesn’t appear to yet offer goods or services. 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.
In the letter, Mr. Schwimmer argues that because 4chan is known for its forums, Moot.It’s focus on forums and commenting could lead to further confusion amongst users. The letter also includes a handful of amusing details, such as the use of an Urban Dictionary entry to support Mr. Poole’s claim to “moot” and a Hacker News comment to illustrate the fact that people may confuse Moot and Moot.It.
Mr. Couch’s lawyer, Jana Moser of Gerard Fox, has responded to Mr. Poole’s letter, saying that they refuse to relinquish the right to use the name Moot.It. The letter sent to Mr. Schwimmer and Mr. Poole by Mr. Couch’s lawyer further states that because this is a “frivolous” lawsuit, should Mr. Poole make any further demands, “you will both be met with a lawsuit for malicious prosecution.”
“We wrote the letter to bring Moot.It’s attention to information relating to its choice of name (including the fact that a user on YCombinator asked ‘Is this related to the Moot?’),” Mr. Schwimmer told Betabeat. “We did so in the hopes of achieving a constructive resolution of the situation, and still believe that to be the best outcome for all concerned.”
Below are both letters.