In the escalating legal tussle over nonfungible token (NFT) art related to the Bored Ape Yacht Club, Ryder Ripps’ most recent bid to get the lawsuit dismissed seems to be facing a tough hurdle. A panel of judges expressed skepticism over the arguments presented by Ripps and Jeremy Cahen, suggesting that the appeal might not find favor in the courts.
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A tug-of-war over free speech and artistic expression
The Oct. 17 hearing witnessed three judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District who appeared unconvinced by the defenses put forth by the lawyer representing Ripps and Cahen (also known as “Pauly” on X).
The core of their defense rests on the assertion that their knock-off Bored Ape NFTs were an avant-garde expression and a form of protest against alleged anti-Semitic undertones in the Yuga Labs’ original collection.
Thomas Sprankling, the WilmerHale partner representing the duo, positioned his clients as proponents of free speech, suggesting that their NFTs are more of an artful critique than a commercial exploitation. He stressed that their actions should be protected under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, designed to prevent litigations that intend to intimidate and silence individuals.
“The anti-SLAPP statute acts as a prophylactic to ensure people are not threatened into suppressing their speech due to intimidating lawsuits.”
Ripps and Cahen, in their motion, alleged that Yuga Labs is resorting to this lawsuit purely to stifle their artistic protest and drain their resources through legal expenses.
Judges zero in on sales and commercial aspects
Despite these arguments, the judges seemed more focused on the tangible aspects of the NFT sales, sidelining the claims of artistic freedom and protest. Judge Anthony Johnstone retorted, “He was selling the same images, on the same platforms, with almost identical NFT markers,” effectively dismissing the defense’s broader artistic narrative.
Judge Morgan Christen further echoed the sentiment, saying, “I’m still not seeing it.”
Yuga Labs x Ryder Ripps previous legal entanglements
Yuga Labs’ contention with Ripps and Cahen isn’t new. The company initiated a lawsuit in July 2022, accusing the pair of pocketing millions through trademark infringement, misleading advertising, and unjust competition via their derivative NFT series dubbed RR/BAYC.
Following these allegations, a California District Court on April 21 deemed that Ripps and Cahen had indeed violated Yuga Lab’s trademarks with their RR/BAYC collection. As the case moves forward, Californian District Court Judge John Walter, having already overseen a trial to determine potential damages owed to Yuga Labs, remains poised to deliver a final verdict.
As the legal landscape around NFTs continues to evolve, this case could set a precedent for how artistic interpretation and commercial interests intersect in the burgeoning digital art world.