Bored Ape NFT maker Yuga Labs sues artist, claiming he copied tokens

3 minute read

A representation of cryptocurrency Ethereum is seen next to non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of Yuga Labs "Bored Ape Yacht Club" collection displayed on its website, in this illustration picture taken March 24, 2022. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration

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  • Yuga Labs said Ryder Ripps has made 'millions' from fake NFTs
  • Ripps has said his NFTs are 'appropriation art'

(Reuters) - The creator of the popular Bored Ape Yacht Club non-fungible tokens has sued an artist in Los Angeles federal court, accusing him of selling copycats that are confusing potential buyers.

Yuga Labs Inc said in the Friday lawsuit that Ryder Ripps is purposely causing consumer confusion under the guise of satire and reaping millions in "ill-gotten profit" while "celebrating the harm he causes."

A statement on the website for Ripps' NFTs said Bored Ape Yacht Club has "extensive connections" to "subversive internet nazi troll culture" and that his work "recontextualized" the pieces.

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Ripps said in a Monday email that the lawsuit was part of an attempt by Yuga to silence his "research," and that people who reserved his NFTs knew they were "a protest against and parody of BAYC."

Yuga said in the complaint that Ripps has targeted it in a "campaign of harassment based on false accusations of racism," and the company's founders said in a Friday open letter appearing on the website Medium that "trolls" were "spreading ridiculous conspiracy theories online and using them to sell knockoff NFTs."

The company said in a Friday Twitter post that it will fight Ripps' "slanderous claims" and "continuous infringement."

NFTs are digital tokens that use blockchain technology to verify an asset's authenticity. Yuga's Bored Ape Yacht Club is some of the most prominent NFT-based artwork. A set of Bored Apes sold for $24.4 million at Sotheby's last year, and Yuga was valued at $4 billion in March.

The lawsuit said Ripps and other parties minted and sold identical copies of Bored Apes and used misleading labeling and tracking information to make them seem legitimate.

Yuga said its applications for federal trademarks on the "Bored Ape Yacht Club" name are pending, and has common-law rights in the name already.

Yuga also said Ripps made a copycat version of the Bored Ape Yacht Club Twitter account, causing further confusion.

Ripps' website said his work "uses satire and appropriation to protest and educate people regarding The Bored Ape Yacht Club and the framework of NFTs."

"Copying is not satire, it is theft," the lawsuit said. And lying to consumers is not conceptual art, it is deception."

The lawsuit alleges trademark infringement, false advertising, unfair competition and cybersquatting (registering internet domains of well-known names, often in hopes of reselling at a profit).

Yuga asked the court for an order blocking Ripps from using its trademarks and an unspecified amount of money damages.

The case is Yuga Labs Inc v. Ripps, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 2:22-cv-04355.

For Yuga Labs: Eric Ball, Kimberly Culp and Anthony Fares of Fenwick & West

For Ripps: not available

(NOTE: This story has been updated with comment from Ripps.)

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com