A federal judge ruled on Monday that the leaders of the corporation behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club must be deposed due to a vocal and controversial critic’s actions.
On Monday, a federal judge ruled that Wylie Aronow and Greg Solano, co-founders of Yuga Labs, the $4 billion company behind the dominant NFT collection Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), must be deposed in the company’s ongoing trademark infringement case against Ryder Ripps, the conceptual artist and internet provocateur.
The ruling is the latest turn in a long and strange story involving one of the most important people in crypto. At the beginning of 2022, Ripps started spreading rumors that Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs had hidden, but on purpose, racist and pro-Nazi imagery. Then, in May, Ripps sold a copycat collection of 10,000 Bored Ape NFTs. He said this was a politically charged artistic statement.
Ripps stated that the collection showed Yuga’s Nazi ties as well as legal problems surrounding the reproducibility of NFTs. Yuga alleged trademark infringement and launched a federal lawsuit against the artist.
In the months following, Yuga, perhaps the most dominating brand in the emerging, multibillion dollar NFT business, has attempted and at times struggled to walk a tightrope between silencing a vocal critic making inflammatory claims and accidentally giving him fresh ammunition.
Yuga looks to be making every effort to limit the artist’s ability to use the lawsuit to his advantage. The company sued Ripps just for trademark infringement, not copyright infringement or defamation—a very specific legal tactic that may have been designed to prevent Ripps from turning the lawsuit into a referendum on the duplicability of NFTs or a platform for his inflammatory claims.
However, new developments in the case may have set it on a path toward more sensationalism.
Yuga attempted to prohibit Ripps’ counsel from deposing Aronow and Solano, alleging in a January 5 filing that both co-founders were “apex witnesses” – high-level corporate employees who are frequently exempt from deposition if lower-level employees can testify to the same information.
The judge found such arguments “deficient on the merits,” concluding that only Yuga’s co-founders could comment on the origins of the Bored Ape mark.
The judge also reprimanded Yuga for “lack of diligence,” citing the company’s failure to reply to numerous requests by Ripps’ counsel to arrange deposition scheduling, and ordered Yuga’s co-founders to submit to deposition as soon as possible.
“The fact that they, who brought the lawsuit against me, cannot account for their own actions and have dodged producing anything throughout the discovery process should speak volumes,” he said.
Alfred Steiner, one of Ripps’ attorneys, stated that he understood Yuga’s hesitation to bring its leadership into the deposition room.
“Nobody wants to be deposed,” Steiner told. “They don’t want to answer the difficult, uncomfortable questions that the defendants’ critique requires.”
In a December filing on behalf of Ripps and his co-defendant Jeremy Cahen, that critique goes back to Yuga’s earliest days. It says that the company’s logos and even name were all built on an intricate web of ironic, alt-right, neo-Nazi, and racist references.
Yuga has strongly denied these claims, and Aronow has named Ripps a “demented troll” who continues to spread “ridiculous conspiracy theories” in the past.
Under penalty of perjury, Ripps and his team will now have the opportunity to question Aronow and others in detail about this theory. Regardless of whether or not this effort is fruitful for Ripps’ legal defense, it is an opportunity that the internet provocateur would have likely never had otherwise.