Artist Ryder Ripps asked a Los Angeles federal court to stop a trademark lawsuit brought against him by the maker of the popular Bored Ape Yacht Club non-fungible tokens, arguing Monday that his NFTs of the apes were a type of “appropriation art” meant as criticism and protected by the First Amendment.
Ripps doubled down on his allegations that the NFTs contain coded racist imagery, and called Yuga Lab Inc’s lawsuit an attempt to “silence an artist who used his craft to call out a multi-billion-dollar company built on racist and neo-Nazi dog whistles.”
Yuga declined to comment on the filing. The company previously said in its June lawsuit that Ripps was engaging in a “campaign of harassment based on false accusations of racism” and in a blog post that “trolls” were “spreading ridiculous conspiracy theories online and using them to sell knockoff NFTs.”
Ripps’ Monday filing said his NFTs that point to Bored Apes images are a form of “appropriation art” meant to bring attention to Yuga’s alleged racism. He said that collectors knowingly commissioned his NFTs as an “act of protest” against Yuga.
His motion said that Yuga’s Bored Ape logo mimics a Nazi emblem, the name “Yuga” references an alt-right slogan and that the Bored Apes themselves have “obvious racist messaging and imagery.” Ripps also said that Yuga had not sued any of the “dozens” of entities making knock-off Bored Apes that do not criticize the company.
Ripps’ attorney Louis Tompros of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr said in a Monday statement that his “artistic criticism” is “exactly the kind of artistic expression that the First Amendment protects.”
Tompros previously represented “Pepe the Frog” creator Matt Furie in copyright lawsuits against far-right websites that he said had misappropriated the character.
NFTs are digital tokens that use blockchain technology to verify an asset’s authenticity, and Yuga Labs’ Bored Ape Yacht Club works are some of the most prominent NFT-based art. A set of Bored Apes NTFs sold for $24.4 million at Sotheby’s last year, and Yuga Labs was valued at $4 billion in March, though the value of NFTs has since cratered.
Yuga Labs accused Ripps, his business partner Jeremy Cahen and others of causing customer confusion by minting and selling identical copies of Bored Apes.