Artist Ryder Ripps Ordered to Pay $1.6 M. to Bored Ape Yacht Club Creator Yuga Labs, Ending Copyright Battle

Artist Ryder Ripps and Ripps’ business partner, Jeremy Cahen, have been ordered to pay Bored Ape Yacht Club creator Yuga Labs roughly $1.6 million, concluding the protracted court battle over copyright infringement. 

Per CoinTelegraph, John F. Walter, U.S. District Judge of Central California, ruled Wednesday that the pair must pay for “disgorgement and damages”, in addition to legal fees. Walter awarded Yuga Labs $1.38 million after concluding the company was entitled to a disgorgement—or a court-ordered repayment of illegally gotten gains—as well as $200,000 in statutory damages relating to cybersquatting violations. The order also covers attorney’s fees and costs from Ripps and Cahen after the judge deemed the trademark infringement to be an “exceptional case.” In the order, Walter reasoned that the “infringing and noninfringing elements of [the] work cannot be readily separated” and said the trademark infringement was an “exceptional case.”

“A trademark case is generally considered exceptional for purposes of awarding of attorneys’ fees when a party has taken positions that can be characterized as ‘malicious, fraudulent, deliberate or willful,’” the judge wrote in his ruling. 

Yuga Labs filed its complaint in June 2022, after Ripps began selling RR/BAYC NFTs that were identical to Yuga Labs’ Bored Ape Yacht Club collection. However, Ripps claimed that the RR/BAYC NFTs were a form of appropriation art meant to undermine BAYC, which he has said he believed to be threaded with alt-right, Neo Nazi dog whistles and imagery.

Yuga Labs, which has denied that their project contains references to esoteric right-wing ideology, sued Ripps for trademark infringement and cybersquatting, with their main contention being that Ripps was confusing potential customers with his knockoff project.

In late April, Walter ruled in Yuga’s favor in a partial summary judgement on its first cause of action for “false designation of origin” and its third cause of action for “cybersquatting.” In that partial summary judgement, Walter determined that Ripps and Cahen violated the Lanham Act of 1946, the primary federal trademark statute in the US. The law forbids trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and false advertising. Walters applied the Rogers Test, a court precedent established in 1989 that allows for trademark infringement to protect free creative expression.

“In this case, the Court concludes that confusion is likely given the complexity and required sophistication to understand the blockchain and verify provenance,” Walter wrote in his April decision. “Defendants knew that their RR/BAYC NFTs were likely to be confused with Yuga’s BAYC NFTs and that at least some purchasers of their RR/BAYC NFTs would have difficulty identifying the RR/BAYC NFTs as a different and distinct product from Yuga’s BAYC NFTs.”

ARTnews has reached out to both parties for comment but did recieve a response at press time.