With their indifferent, detached expressions, the 10,000 members of the Bored Ape Yacht Club look, well, bored. But there is great excitement in the billion-dollar market for these digital images, which were launched in April 2021 and count singers Justin Bieber and Madonna among their celebrity owners.

When actor Seth Green paid $200,000 to purchase Bored Ape NFT #8398 – a.k.a., Fred Simian –the deal included licensing rights, and Green created a television show to feature Fred. Then just weeks ago, Fred went missing.

In the past week, Green revealed that Fred Simian is home, yet the strange, twisted tale of a Bored Ape has many more turns left, involving copyright law, cryptocurrency, and blockchain code.

To unravel this virtual riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, Paul Sweeting, editor of rightstech.com and co-chair of the RightsTech Summit (returning online in September) spoke with me.

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Cryptocurrency and Cryptic Copyright

“The purported license of usage rights was conveyed by means of a blockchain smart contract, and the terms and conditions say that your ownership of this ape and these rights that we are extending to you is entirely mediated by a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain,” Sweeting explains.

“Well, a smart contract isn’t really a contract – a smart contract is simply a bit of self-executing code. It’s not the equivalent of a contract of sale or a license contract that is written down by lawyers and signed by both parties and notarized,” he says. “So when you purchase a Bored Ape, and it purports to convey you these rights, it’s not at all clear that a smart contract can do that in a legal sense that the courts would recognize.”

Author: Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally hosts CCC's Velocity of Content podcast series, which debuted in 2006 and is the longest continuously running podcast covering the publishing industry. As CCC's Senior Director, Marketing, he is responsible for organizing and hosting programs that address the business needs of all stakeholders in publishing and research. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Independent (London), WBUR-FM, NPR, and WGBH-TV.
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