The leading web3 company behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT project, Yuga Labs, has fallen victim to copycats more than once. Currently, you can bump into hundreds of BAYC-like NFT collections but, nevertheless, most of them differ from the prototype. Others, on the contrary, copy each feature, name, color, and trait to make collectors think they are buying the authentic BAYC.
Thus, the most recent case with Thomas Lehman who built the website and smart contracts for Ryder Ripp’s copycat collection RR/BAYC is an example of a blatant violation of IP rights. Luckily, the story ended on a positive note with the court decision.
Let's recall where it all started and how that turned out for both sides. Ripps’ project is a series of 10K NFT avatars that have the same names, traits, and other peculiarities inherent in the famous BAYC collection. The copycat was developed by Ryder Ripps, with whom Yuga Labs is currently in the ongoing court case around the trademark infringement.
Being part of the Ripps' team, Thomas Lehman was engaged in coding and developing the RRBAYC RSVP Contract as well as the fraudster website. Thus, on January 20th, 2023, Yuga Labs called Lehman to court. The case ended in February in favor of the plaintiff.
The law suite finished with a settlement, according to which, Thomas Lehman is banned from using "any manner any BAYC Mark," destroying "any materials in his possession or control publicly displaying the BAYC Marks" and burning any RR/BAYC NFT he holds.
“I am happy to have resolved the Yuga Labs, Inc. v. Lehman trademark lawsuit in the [U.S. District Court] Northern District of New York,” Lehman shared his thought on the matter, adding, “It was never my intention to harm Yuga Labs’ brand, and I reject all disparaging statements made about Yuga Labs and its founders and appreciate their many positive contributions to the NFT space.”
Yuga Labs board, in their turn, “are pleased that Mr. Lehman acknowledged his role in assisting former cohorts, Ryder Ripps and Jeremy Cahen, to infringe on Yuga Labs’ trademarks in developing, marketing and selling counterfeit NFTs.”
While the victims of fraud managed to achieve a settlement with the coder, the suit with Ryder Ripps is still ongoing. In October 2022, the copycat project's founder filed an anti-SLAPP motion, saying the RR/BAYC NFTs are protected by free speech as a work of satire. Of course, the motion was denied, while Ripp's team filed countersuits against Yuga.
This case has pointed out the importance of taking more care of IP and trademark rights within the NFT space. We hope Yuga Labs will protect their IP rights on the legislative level and teach other creators by their example.