The lawyer for NFT artist Ryder Ripps and his business partner, Jeremy Cahen (alias “Pauly” on X), found it challenging to persuade a committee of judges to reject the litigation initiated by Bored Ape Yacht Club targeting his clients.
During a hearing on Oct. 17, a trio of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District seemed unconvinced by the defense’s rationale. The attorney argued in favor of case dismissal based on free speech rights, claiming the replica Bored Ape NFTs were marketed and shared as a demonstration against purported concealed anti-Semitic symbols in the original series.
Their counsel, Thomas Sprankling, underscored that Ryder Ripps presented the NFTs as cutting-edge artistic commentary championing the limits of free speech. He posited that Yuga’s suit should be thrown out in light of a California statute meant to thwart suppressive litigations, commonly referred to as strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP).
Sprankling highlighted that the anti-SLAPP law in California serves as a safeguard, amplifying the First Amendment’s provisions, ensuring individuals aren’t intimidated or hindered from voicing their opinions freely. The proceedings underscored the intricacies interweaving free speech, artistic representation, and NFTs in a judicial context.
The anti-SLAPP motion proposed that Yuga Labs initiated the lawsuit in reaction to Ripps publicly critiquing the Bored Apes on social platforms, intending to mute him by saddling him with legal expenses.
Nonetheless, the panel of judges seemed unconvinced by this stance. Their scrutiny was centered more on the resale of the imitation NFTs rather than the additional commentary by Ripps and Cahen.
Expressing her reservations, Circuit Judge Morgan Christen remarked, “I’m still not seeing it,” hinting that the court was in search of a more definitive guideline to assess the lawsuit’s validity.
Legal Battle Unfolds as Artist Accuses Bored Ape NFTs of Controversial Imagery
In January 2022, Ripps started sharing on his social media channels, alleging that the BAYC NFT designs contained discriminatory depictions of Black and Asian figures. He further claimed that the project’s emblem and branding discreetly embedded Nazi symbols and terminology.
By mid-May, Ryder Ripps unveiled RR/BAYC (Ryder Ripps Bored Ape Yacht Club), an NFT endeavor that overtly used visuals and designations from BAYC, framing it as an artistic statement of dissent.
However, a month later, in June 2022, Yuga Labs took legal action against Ripps and Cahen. They charged the duo with profiting immensely from trademark violations, misleading promotion, cybersquatting, and other related accusations. The lawsuit was spurred by the launch of the spin-off NFT series titled RR/BAYC.
According to Yuga Labs’ legal representatives, RR/BAYC was deliberately sowing confusion among potential BAYC patrons, giving an impression that RR/BAYC was officially linked with Yuga Labs.
Ripps countered by stating that the RR/BAYC initiative was essentially satirical and a form of artistic appropriation, aiming to protest and enlighten the public about the issues surrounding BAYC and the broader NFT landscape.
In April, the United States District Court for the Central District of California adjudged that Ripps and Cahen had overstepped the boundaries by violating Yuga Lab’s trademarks through their NFT series.
Consequently, the court determined that Yuga Labs deserves an injunction and compensation. The exact quantum of damages remains to be ascertained in a subsequent trial, focusing on the extent of financial reparation Yuga Labs should receive.
Nonetheless, District Court Judge John Walter has conducted a bench trial to delve into the potential compensation. The court’s decision, encompassing the potential damage amounts, remains pending.