Conceptual artist Ryder Ripps called the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs racist. Now Yuga Labs – the company behind the wildly popular NFTs series – is suing Ripps for “calculated, intentional, and willful” scheme to damage BAYC. Ripps, meanwhile, maintains that the company is attempting to silence critics like him.
It all began when Ripps started using BAYC images in its RR/BAYC NFT Series but connected them with a different crypto token and sold them for the equivalent of around $200 apiece, a bargain compared to the real market prices of around $100,000.
Ripps described his work as a twist on appropriation art, exploring “the power of NFTs to change meaning, establish provenance, and evade censorship”. But Yuga Labs rejects the claim that the work was a parody. It says that the work is part of a smear campaign Ripps has been waging online, including what it called false accusations that the origins of BAYC are connected to Nazi imagery.
Ripps has alleged that BAYC NFTs portray “traits that indicate that they are intended to represent Black people and Asian people… equating them to monkeys”. In addition, Ripps claims that the BAYC series makes frequent mentions of coded white supremacist words and symbols, including the creators’ pseudonyms, the BAYC logo and other symbols. The BAYC logo, for instance, Ripps says is similar to the Nazi Totenkopf emblem.
While Ripps is not the only person to make these claims, the Anti-Defamation expressed doubts about his interpretations. Yuga Labs already denied the direct comparison to Nasim and racist caricatures calling such claims “deeply painful”. Co-founder Gordon Goner recently offered a long rebuttal to Ripps’ allegations in a blog post on Medium.
Yuga Labs have now taken the case further by suing Ripps, alleging that he was “trolling” them and “scamming consumers” by making and selling copycat pieces. They accused Ripps of trying to devalue their pieces by “flooding the NFT market with his own copycat NFT collection using the original Bored Ape Yacht Club images.”
Ripps’ RR/BAYC NFT collection uses the same images, logos and marks owned by BAYC. He sold 10,000 NFTs at 0.15 ETH each, netting him an estimated $1.8 million in profits. Yuga Labs calls these “ill-gotten” gains, and said they hope to receive the same amount in damages, as well as an injunction preventing Ripps from using any images or trademarks associated with BAYC.
Ripps said in an emailed statement that the lawsuit “grossly mischaracterizes the RR/BAYC project,” which he called a “protest against and parody of” the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection.
“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,” he said.
We spoke with a BAYC owner about the controversy. ”As a Black woman, I feel that I am one of the smallest stakeholder groups in the yacht club. As such, I am very sensitive to all claims of racism that surround it. There have been things brought up on many occasions and for me they haven’t stood up to further examination. I feel like if you string a bunch of things together you can assume almost any type of correlation. The allegations are also from a group of individuals that are profiting over what they claim to be racist iconography. I have legitimate doubts about their credibility and their sincerity. All this to say, I have not been convinced of the racist origins of BAYC. Were someone to come up with a credible link that was more than a coincidence or more than people pulling at straws, then I would be open to hearing it.”
The case promises to be a hotly watched one in the NFT space, with the court now asked to look at issues surrounding copyright in crypto art. It is believed that the suit will hinge on factors like whether Ripps was legitimately confusing people with his work — or whether people were buying his artwork specifically because they weren’t BAYC.