Lawsuit Filed Against Celebrity NFT Hype Machine: Was Bored Ape A Racist Theme?

Lawsuit Filed Against Celebrity NFT Hype Machine: Was Bored Ape A Racist Theme?

NFT hype Bored Ape

https://opensea.io/collection/boredapeyachtclub, early 2022

A class action lawsuit, filed in December, alleges that Paris Hilton, talk show host Jimmy Fallon, and other celebrities conspired to artificially inflate the price of Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs, hyping the non-fungible tokens to unbelievable prices that generated enormous media interest.

Yuga Labs — the parent company of Bored Ape, the celebrities and others are accused of enriching themselves. At issue is how the NFTs were traded, Elle Reeve and Samantha Guff wrote for CNN.

Another Yuga Labs lawsuit is underway brought by Yuga against an artist who claims that the NFTs depict a racist theme. Artist Ryder Ripps started tweeting in 2021 about claims of racist imagery in the ape NFTs. He claims Guy Oseary, a Hollywood agent on the Yuga board, called to pressure him to stop talking about the claims.

NFTs are typically digital art bought with cryptocurrency. Bored Ape is a collection of 10,000 NFTs minted on the Ethereum blockchain featuring profile pictures of cartoon apes generated by an algorithm. Bored Ape Yacht Club made money issuing new digital artwork and by royalties from secondary sales and other transactions. Justin Bieber bought an ape for $1.3 million. By March 2022, Yuga had secured $450 million in venture capital investment and was valued at $4 billion.

Bored Ape Yacht Club was one of the top beneficiaries of celebrity hype that helped bring new consumers to crypto — an industry now attracting unprecedented regulatory scrutiny over manipulation, fraud, and the collapse of crypto exchange FTX, Reeve and Guff wrote. “But for a time, when crypto’s prices seemed to have no limit, the money appeared too good for some to ask questions — questions like: Why are some of those apes wearing prison clothes?”

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Ripps made a website cataloging his claims of a racist theme in Bored Apes, and then, as a form of protest against the alleged racism and as commentary on the idea you can’t copy an NFT, Ripps said he made copycat NFTs and sold them as RR/BAYC.

Yuga sued Ripps for trademark infringement, arguing that his maligning of the Yuga apes was purely for profit and “the incoherent ramblings of a small group of for-profit conspiracy theorists.” However, the Yuga lawsuit against Ripps could affect the class action lawsuit against Yuga. Ripps’s lawyers have subpoenaed Hilton and Fallon.

The racist references alleged by Ripps and others include pictures of apes in “hip hop” clothes, a “pimp coat,” a prison uniform, a bone necklace and gold and diamond grills, CNN reported. Record executive Dame Dash, a crypto enthusiast, said in a 2022 podcast that monkeys and apes are old racist tropes.

Ryan Hickman, a Black software engineer who worked with Ripps on RR/BAYC, is also being sued by Yuga. Hickman said he thought the Bored Apes looked like stereotypical portrayals of Black people as stupid or lazy — something he thought would be obvious to most people the instant they saw an image of a Bored Ape. 

In a legal filing connected to the Ripps case, Yuga said the apes reflected a combination of many traits, “not any person’s purported racism.”

Wylie Aronow, the co-founder of Yuga Labs, denied accusations of racist imagery embedded in the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT project. In a Feb. 9 guest column for Coindesk, he explained that he came up with the Bored Ape concept as an homage “to the energy and excitement of Crypto Twitter.”

“Early crypto and NFT adopters were worth millions, yet showcased fun anime or animal profile pictures on Twitter. Instead of f**cking off to the south of France with their newly made fortune, they were up late posting memes and looking for people to play League of Legends with,” Aronow wrote. “They were bored. It was an absolutely fascinating culture to encounter when we first did in 2017. And like the retail stock traders of Reddit’s r/wallstreetbets, many crypto traders thought of themselves as ‘apes.’ To ‘ape’ meant to go apes**t and buy something without any due diligence. Ape, as in, ‘I just aped into this s**tcoin.'”

Aronow claims to be a liberal who exclusively supported, voted for and donated to progressive politicians including Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nina Turner.

“I made anti-racist tweets, mocked those who got upset that Confederate statues were being torn down, and mocked racists who were bullying [Nascar driver] Bubba Wallace. It’s claimed our pseudonyms were intentionally crafted to be obscure racist references,” he said. “That is categorically false.”