By Shanti Escalante-De Mattei
Yuga Labs, the creators of the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT collection (BAYC), is suing LA-based artist Ryder Ripps for his conceptual art project RR/BAYC.
Yuga Labs lawyers filed a complaint on June 24th, accusing Ripps of false advertising, trademark infringement, and cybersquatting, amongst other charges. The complaint also names Jeremy Cahen, the founder of NFT marketplace Not Larva Labs, and ten Does as defendants.
“In response to the Bored Ape Yacht Club’s popularity, Defendant Ryder Ripps, a self-proclaimed ‘conceptual artist,’ recently began trolling Yuga Labs and scamming consumers into purchasing RR/BAYC NFTs by misusing Yuga Labs’ trademarks,” reads the complaint. “He seeks to devalue the Bored Ape NFTs by flooding the NFT market with his own copycat NFT collection using the original Bored Ape Yacht Club images and calling his NFTs ‘RR/BAYC’ NFTs.”
Ripps is a well-known artist who has been making conceptual work about and with the internet for the entirety of his career. Ripps has had numerous solo exhibitions, and has developed commercial work for numerous major celebrities and brands.
In January, Ripps began posting on his social media accounts — where he has tens of thousands of followers — about what he believed to be connections between the visuals and language in BAYC and those in Nazi and white supremacist messaging. For example, Ripps pointed out that the BAYC logo appears to be quite similar to the Nazi Totenkopf emblem. Ripps also conducted an interview with Know Your Meme on the subject. The question of whether Yuga Labs founders or BAYC were racist soon became a debate on social media.
These actions have been named in the complaint as a “campaign of harassment based on false accusations of racism.”
In mid-May, Ripps launched RR/BAYC (Ryder Ripps Bored Ape Yacht Club), an NFT project that ripped imagery and names directly from BAYC as a kind of conceptual art protest. Yuga Labs is claiming that RR/BAYC hurt their business.
“This is no mere monkey business,” the complaint goes on. The Yuga Labs lawyers said that RR/BAYC was deliberately confusing potential BAYC customers who thought that RR/BAYC was somehow legitimately associated with Yuga Labs. OpenSea, the NFT marketplace on which BAYC and RR/BAYC are sold and traded, has consistently delisted RR/BAYC.
Ripps denies that any buyers were misled.
“The lawsuit grossly mischaracterizes the RR/BAYC project – people who reserved RR/BAYC NFT (Non Fungible Token) understood that their NFT was being minted as a protest against and parody of BAYC,” Ripps said in a statement published on Twitter. “And no one was under the impression that the RR/BAYC NFTs were substitutes for BAYC NFTs or would grant them access to Yuga’s club. They explicitly acknowledged a disclaimer when they purchased.”
Though the complaint alleges that consumers are being duped into buying RR/BAYC, it also accuses individuals who “buy and resell the RR/BAYC NFTs despite knowing that they are fake,” listed as Does 6-10, of the same charges as Ripps, according to the complaint.
The complaint comes after Ripps landed a number of blows over the last month. In late May, Ripps defeated a DMCA takedown request related to RR/BAYC. Then, last week, YouTuber Philip Rusnack, who goes by Philion, published an hour-long video on BAYC and its purported connections to racist messaging. The video, for which Ripps’ research was used, has been viewed more than a million times. Additionally, last week, RR/BAYC traded in a 24-hour period at a higher rate (not volume) than BAYC.
Ripps has argued that the RR/BAYC project “uses satire and appropriation to protest and educate people” about BAYC and NFTs.
Under the legal doctrine of fair use, one may use copyrighted material “for a limited and ‘transformative’ purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work,” as attorney Richard Stim has explained for Stanford Libraries. Such speech is protected under the First Amendment.
This is a developing story.
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