Bored Ape Yacht Club maker sues artist Ryder Ripps over NFT

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The creators of the Bored Ape non-fungible token collection — one of the most well-known and beloved digital art sets — sued an artist in federal court, alleging he was “trolling” and “scamming them.” consumers” by making and selling copied parts.

Attorneys for Yuga Labs, whose “Bored Ape Yacht Club” parts have sold for millions of dollars, filed suit Friday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. They accused self-proclaimed “concept artist” “Ryder Ripps” of trying to devalue their pieces by “flooding the NFT market with his own NFT collection using the original Bored Ape Yacht Club images”. Ripps sold his work under a similar name, “RR/BAYC”.

“It’s not just a monkey thing,” the suit said. “This is a deliberate effort to harm Yuga Labs at the expense of consumers by causing confusion as to whether these RR/BAYC NFTs are in any way sponsored, affiliated or connected to the Bored Ape Yuga Labs Official Yacht Club.”

The value of the 10,000 unique and colorful monkey NFTs that Yuga Labs has created lies not only in their rarity, depending on the costume, but also in their advantages. These include entry into an “exclusive community” of Bored Ape owners, who have access to online channels, as well as parties and events, after purchasing one of the NFTs.

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An Ape Fest took place last week at Pier 17 in New York, with performances by LCD Soundsystem, Haim, Future and Eminem. Owners of a cartoon monkey received a QR code allowing them to access the event.

The Bored Ape Owner Class includes comedian Jimmy Fallon – who announced his spacewalk in Tweeter “Permission to come bored?” – and rapper Snoop Dogg (“When I APE in I APE all the way!!”). DJ Steve Aoki has at least eight digital primates, according to his Twitter account.

The value of Bored Ape NFTs has fallen in recent months, from a cryptocurrency floor of 153.54 ether on May 1 – around $430,000 at the time – to 87.13 ether on Tuesday, nearly of $100,000. The lawsuit blamed Ripps for the decline, which he said “and others acting in concert with him bragged and applauded”.

Ripps said in an emailed statement that the lawsuit “grossly misrepresents the RR/BAYC project,” which he called a “protest and parody of” the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection.

“Nobody felt like RR/BAYC NFTs were replacing BAYC NFTs or giving them access to the Yuga club,” he said.

The lawsuit is a spillover from the high-flying world of NFTs, blockchain and cryptocurrency — which many tech innovators have touted as the future of the internet — into the federal legal system. These innovations were developed, at least in part, to remove the involvement of traditional frameworks such as court systems, real estate agencies, and central banks from a wide variety of transactions.

The suit also comes during a turbulent time for crypto, with prices swinging wildly, so-called stablecoins becoming unstable, and regulators turning to the industry.

“Use the American legal system, you shouldn’t need that. That’s the whole point of crypto – you don’t need government intervention,” said a Yuga Labs investor who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive business issues.

“This is the hottest NFT product in the world,” the person said. “That they’re dealing with copyright infringement is not surprising.”

Legal experts told the Washington Post that Ripps’ parody defense is likely to fall flat.

Ripps “missed the parody mark in my opinion,” said Steve Vondran, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and technology cases. He noted that it is more difficult to seek protection for parody under fair use laws if it “appears that they seek to financially exploit the creative efforts” of others.

RR/BAYC NFTs were no longer available on Open Sea, a popular NFT marketplace, early Wednesday. “This content is no longer accessible on OpenSea. It was removed based on an intellectual property infringement claim,” the website said.

Vondran added that if satire was claimed as a defense, it would carry far fewer protections. (A recreation of the work in question could be claimed as a parody, whereas satire uses the work to make a statement about something else.) Anyway, he said, “at best I think that’s what you have here, a very weak version of satire.”

Marta Belcher, a former intellectual property lawyer who now specializes in cryptocurrency litigation, said it’s an obvious trademark issue: The purpose of trademark laws, has t she said, is to protect consumers by making sure they know a product is actually from a certain brand.

She added that these laws also protect brand owners from “dilution – that people can know that their product is associated with a high level of quality.”

Belcher said the case was similar to a 2021 trademark lawsuit brought by Nike against a company selling “Satan shoes” – repurposed Nike sneakers that were allegedly injected with human blood. The parties reached an agreement a few months after the complaint was filed.

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