The battle between provocateur Ryder Ripps and the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT collection rages on. Ripps and Jeremy Cahen, creator of apemarket.com, filled an Anti-SLAPP motion to counter Yuga Labs’ suit against them. The term “Anti-SLAPP” stands for Anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, and Ripps and Cahen might have a case after all. Even though they both are or stand to profit from their Bored Ape Yacht Club rip-off NFT collection.
Before we start, you should know that Ripps alleges that the BAYC contains encoded racist and nazi iconography. Bitcoinist analyzed the case when the accusations came out, and then published not only one, but two denials by Yuga Labs’ creators. So, we’ve been more than fair to Yuga Labs. The other relevant piece of information is that the provocateur then created an NFT collection titled RR BAYC that is identical to the original one, and it’s selling those separate NFTs and profiting from it.
In an email received by Bitcoinist, lawyer Louis Tompros from WilmerHale claims Yuga Lab’s suit is a “baseless effort to silence Mr. Ripps’s artistic criticism.” He then proceeds to explain:
“Mr. Ripps’s art called out racist and neo-Nazi imagery in the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection. That is exactly the kind of artistic expression that the First Amendment protects, and lawsuits like this are precisely the reason the anti-SLAPP statute exists. We have asked the Court to strike Yuga’s complaint, and we expect to seek attorney’s fees and costs.”
why are kali yuga labs and their fans so quiet about our response to their lawsuit? they brought the lawsuit against us, you'd think they'd be gloating!.. well here it is, give it a read and report back why you think they are scared to address it.. https://t.co/Jhmy5PoqDj
— RYDER-RIPPS.ETH (@ryder_ripps) August 17, 2022
To further clear things up, lawyer Alfred Steiner from Meister & Steiner adds:
“Yuga Labs has mistaken attribution for infringement. Ryder could not have created an NFT project critical of the Bored Ape Yacht Club without using some of the same terms in its title. Instead of openly engaging with the NFT community about Ryder’s criticism, Yuga brought this pretextual lawsuit to squelch it. The First Amendment should preclude Yuga from using trademark law to silence its most effective critic.”
Are their allegations convincing? Let’s explore the Anti-SLAPP motion’s text before coming to any conclusion.
At first, the lawyers ignore the fact that their client is profiting from the “satirical” rip-off NFT collection. This paragraph introduces their argument:
“Mr. Ripps brought attention to Yuga’s conduct by creating the satirical NFT collection called the “Ryder Ripps Bored Ape Yacht Club” (“RR/BAYC”). Though Yuga never brought action against any of the dozens of commercial “ape” NFT collections, it did—without warning—bring this action against Mr. Ripps and his business partner, Jeremy Cahen. Yuga’s purpose was obvious: to bully Mr. Ripps and Mr. Cahen into silence. But this is precisely why anti-SLAPP statutes exist.”
Then, the lawyers explain how the RR BAYC collection came to be:
“Later, Mr. Ripps posted on Twitter that he would create his satirical NFTs for anyone who requested one for the price of 0.1 Ethereum (currently roughly $190). He explained to his followers that “ryder ripps bayc vision is to create an army of educators” with respect to Yuga’s connections to neo-Nazi and alt-right culture.”
This is where their case starts to make sense. Apparently:
“The RR/BAYC NFTs quickly became popular, and Mr. Ripps eventually set up the website https://rrbayc.com. The website ensured that collectors understood the satirical message of the project and that they were not purchasing a BAYC NFT.”
Not only that, the website contains a disclaimer that “required purchasers to acknowledge that RR/BAYC NFTs are “a new mint of BAYC imagery, recontextualizing it for educational purposes, as protest and satirical commentary.”
if YugaLabs didn't sue @Pauly0x and i simply because they are threatened by our speech than why don't they sue these people too?… who are making no statement and is purely just a rip-off "copycat" project…? https://t.co/j2KImxV5m7 pic.twitter.com/jEqXdIpfSI
— RYDER-RIPPS.ETH (@ryder_ripps) August 17, 2022
There’s also the fact that there are countless BAYC rip-off collections all over the NFT space, and Yuga Labs hasn’t sued them. “why don’t they sue these people too?… who are making no statement and is purely just a rip-off “copycat” project…?,” the artist asks in the tweet above.
One of the strategic moves behind this Anti-SLAPP motion is that it registers Ryder Ripps’ allegations in the court records. The text speaks of Wylie Aronow AKA Gordon Goner’s relationship with “high profile neo-Nazis, including white supremacist Richard Spencer,” and how Aronow “is thanked in the book Thousands of Lies.”
As anticipated, this case is much more about the first amendment than anything. Brilliantly, the lawyers have introduced the merits of @ryder_ripps allegations into their defense. Defendants will get discovery on the truth of the allegations of Nazi dog whistling by Yuga.
— ‘The NFT Lawyer’ on YouTube (@The_NFT_Lawyer) August 15, 2022
The lawyers also allege that “Yuga quietly embedded its company’s trademarks, artwork, and products with these coded “dog whistles,” drawing from neo-Nazi culture and racist communities.” Plus, they include this jewel:
“The BAYC collection itself also contains obvious racist messaging and imagery. The NFTs display anthropomorphized apes in an act of simianization— disparaging ethnic or racial groups by depicting them as apes.”
And that’s just what we are willing to publish. The text contains even worst allegations. It’s as the NFT lawyer wrote in the tweet above, “As anticipated, this case is much more about the first amendment than anything. Brilliantly, the lawyers have introduced the merits of Ryder Ripps allegations into their defense. Defendants will get discovery on the truth of the allegations of Nazi dog whistling by Yuga.”
In a previous Yuga Labs denial, we quoted “Guy Oseary, a veteran talent manager who represents Madonna and U2” saying:
“Early on, I really was offended. I even reached out to [Ripps]. I thought by me talking to him, he would know that I would never be affiliated with anything like that. You know, I’m Israeli, I’m Jewish.”
The defendants’ version of the story paints a completely different picture:
“Yuga has been on a campaign aimed at silencing Mr. Ripps’s artistic expression and related criticism of Yuga’s connections to neo-Nazi and alt-right culture. For example, when Mr. Ripps began to speak out about the BAYC collection, Yuga’s talent manager, Guy Oseary, called Mr. Ripps to make vague threats. Oseary stated that “I can be a nice guy or I can be a not nice guy” and that he could make Mr. Ripps’s life hard if he continued to call out Yuga.”
That doesn’t prove anything, but it’s curious.
So, do Ryder Ripps and Jeremy Cahen have a case? Does the “RR/BAYC uses satire and appropriation to protest and educate people regarding The Bored Ape Yacht Club and the framework of NFTs,” as the website alleges? Or are they just trying to profit from the second most successful NFT collection? The US judicial system will decide.