"Monkey Business": Bored Ape NFT vs. Ryder Ripps
The Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) is a limited collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) with only 10,000 digital artworks available. At the height of their popularity, one set sold for $24.4 million–after many of them featured within popular culture, such as on the front cover of the Rolling Stone. However, the conceptual artist Ryder Ripps saw these NFTs as problematic and decided to create a satirical version of the NFTs. As a result, Bored Ape is suing Ripps for his “trolling” and copying their NFT, in addition to the $5 million dollar profit he made from this, which has further exasperated Yuga Labs’ case. Yuga Labs, the parent company of Bored Ape, first filed the lawsuit on June 24 2022 with a 44 page document accusing Ripps of cybersquatting and trademark infringements, amongst other matters.
Ripps is well known in the art world for his controversial critiques of the internet. Bored Ape claims that Ripps has scammed and misled consumers into purchasing his copy of their NFT(s) through his use of the same trademarks which Yuga Labs uses to mark an NFT as theirs. Multiple NFT marketplaces and platforms, such as OpenSea, have attempted to remove and delist Ripps’ work. This has sometimes resulted in Bored Ape's NFTs being removed too; Ripps' actions have caused confusion and uncertainty for consumers of Bored Ape’s NFTs.
Yuga Labs’s attorney regarded Ripps’ copying of Bored Ape NFTs as a “lazy infringement,” with the intent to irreparably damage the image of the company and their NFT sales. In response to these accusations, Ripps tweeted a defence of his project as satire, claiming that the lawsuit has “grossly mischaracterised” his NFT protest against Yuga Labs and Bored Ape. Ripps also stated in his tweet that in selling his NFTs, there was an explicit disclaimer stating that they were not substitutes of Bored Ape’s NFTs. On his website, Ripps even noted that his NFTs are in the “spirit of art appropriation” and that their purpose is to educate people about the Bored Ape Yacht Club.
Ripps' website provides months of detailed research on the “subversive internet nazi troll culture,” which he argues is perpetuated in popular culture by Bored Ape Yacht Club’s NFTs. He points out that some images have similarities with Nazi iconography. For example the BAYC’s black and white logo has a white ape skull at the centre–the same feature as the Nazi Totenkopf emblem. Yuga Labs’ founders have firmly denied such allegations of racism, and responded with their own letter which claims Ripps has defamed the company through his accusations.
Yuga Labs requested a jury trial against Ripps, arguing that “Copying is not satire, it’s theft”, as well as the deception of consumers by Ripps’ NFTs. Many in the intellectual property (IP) sector advocate for a more laissez-faire attitude with regard to internet culture, based on its accessibility worldwide. However, this does lead to the most successful brands of NFTs being subject to more copyright and trademark infringement issues, with derivative collections copying and referencing original artworks/brands. This also causes issues for IP holders and owners regarding the value of their NFT(s) based on the strength of their trademark brand. Despite this blatant copyright issue between Bored Ape and Ripps which has been agreed upon by many IP and NFT holders, Yuga Labs has not yet decided to raise any copyright claims but maintains a case on cybersquatting and trademark infringements. There are many speculations on why Yuga Labs has not pursued a copyright case, but they have not currently confirmed anything.
However, several legal experts have stated that they believe Ripps has a weak case. IP and technology lawyer Steve Vondran states that seeking protection for parody under the fair-use law is a much more difficult route to take, especially considering Ripps has financially exploited and profited from it. Marta Belcher, former IP lawyer now specialising in cryptocurrency litigation, supports argument that Ripps has engaged in trademark infringement of Bored Ape NFT(s), stating that trademark laws exist to protect consumers from illegitimate companies and brands, as well as protecting the value of a company and their associated products.
Image via Flickr