Yuga Labs, the company behind such projects as the Bored Ape Yacht Club and the Mutant Ape Yacht Club, has had quite the year. The company raised millions in funding and acquired several blue-chip NFT collections, making it one of the most valuable companies in the NFT space. It is also under investigation from both the SEC and the hacktivist group Anonymous while also dealing with a lawsuit against an artist whom it accuses of trademark infringement.
With regards to the latter, there has been a new development, with Yuga Labs responding to the artist’s motion to dismiss the suit.
All About the Lawsuit
The person at the centre of this lawsuit is an artist named Ryder Ripps. Ripps and Yuga Labs have a long and contentious history, with the artist having accused both the Bored Ape Club and its founders of being racist and of the collection having nazi imagery, something that the founders have come out to refute in the past.
The reason the two are in court is that Yuga Labs sued Ryder for creating an NFT collection called RR/BAYC. According to the suit, the NFTs have been designed to mimic the Bored Ape Club’s imagery and trick people into buying them. Ryder has hit back claiming that this lawsuit is Yuga Lab’s attempt to silence him and that the website for the collection openly states that it is “satire and appropriation to protest and educate people regarding The Bored Ape Yacht Club and the framework of NFTs.”
As such, Ryder’s legal team filed a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) to have the lawsuit against him dismissed. But Yuga Labs isn’t backing down. On October 17, 2022, its lawyers filed an opposition against the SLAPP with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. According to court documents, Yuga Labs is stating that Ryder has never denied that he was leveraging the Bored Ape trademark and likeness to sell his own NFTs and that these assets are being sold on the same platform that Yuga Labs sells its own assets which is a classic case of trademark infringement.
Responding to the defence that his work is protected as art and satire, Yuga Labs’ team hit back that Ryder and his team, “cower behind their argument that their willful infringement is protected ‘art,’ [b]ut the First Amendment does not protect scams designed to mislead consumers,” and their actions are “pure commerce, not protected speech.”
Finally, the most recent documents state that if the lawsuit against Ryder is dismissed, it opens the floodgates for anyone to infringe on copyright under the guise of art and satire.
The Lawsuit Heats Up
This lawsuit is significant because it takes on the very complex issue of trademarks and how they relate to NFTs. As the Yuga Labs legal team pointed out, this lawsuit could set the precedent on how trademark law is treated with regard to NFTs and what does or does not constitute an infringement.