What Happened: Hermès has won its lawsuit against Mason Rothschild over his ‘MetaBirkin’ NFT series. After a year-long battle, the landmark case between the French luxury design house and the NFT artist finally came to an end yesterday (following eight days of court proceedings) after it was announced that the jury sided with Hermès.
The brand was awarded $133,000 in damages, with jurors finding that the MetaBirkin NFTs were not protected by the First Amendment of artistic commentary. As a result, the decision ultimately found Rothschild liable for trademark infringement, trademark dilution and “cybersquatting” (the practice of registering names, especially well-known company or brand names, as internet domains, in the hope of reselling them at a profit).
Following the trial’s outcome, Rothschild released a statement, describing the settlement as a result of a “broken justice system”. It’s also believed that the artist will be appealing the jurors decision in due course.
The Jing Take: The year-long litigation hasn’t left headlines since it broke them back in 2022. Marking a major first for both the fashion and NFT industry (the trial was the first ever to explore how NFTs should be perceived through the lens of intellectual property law), the trial amassed a colossal number of spectators since its initial announcement, alongside countless polarizing opinions on luxury’s influence over artistic freedom in the metaverse.
Rothschild’s NFTs were released in November 2021, with the intention of democratizing and raising awareness surrounding the acceleration of ethical textile alternatives. Coined by Rothschild as ‘Not Your Mother’s Birkin’, the fuzzy, garishly printed handbags which replicated Hermès’ famed silhouette, generated around 200ETH in primary sales (around $790,000 at the time).
Following their sales, Hermès quickly issued Rothschild with a cease and desist letter the succeeding month. The digital artist took to the internet to respond that his pieces were merely a “playful abstraction of a cultural touchpoint.”
Despite his retorts, the luxury house officially filed a trademark infringement and dilution lawsuit against Rothschild on January 14, stating that the artist was a “digital speculator who is seeking to get rich quick by appropriating the brand MetaBirkins for use in creating, marketing, selling, and facilitating the exchange of digital assets known as non-fungible tokens”. The label also stated that Rothschild’s work impeded its own plans to launch NFTs (Hermès filed for multiple trademarks in the metaverse in September last year).
In spite of Rothschild’s beliefs, alongside comparing his work to the likes of Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles which he claimed as assets “in stylised but plainly recognisable form”, the court ultimately leaned in the favor of Hermès, judging that the house’s copyrights and brand image had been violated. The result has already received mixed responses across social platforms.
“At no time did anyone think this was an official Hermès NFT, nor was it the reason that hype translated into value for the NFT created,” brand strategist Zenia Simpson penned via LinkedIn, while Valerio Antonucci responded “honestly, since the 100 MetaBirkin NFTs are linked to digital images depicting Hermès’ iconic Birkin bags, I believe that the outcome is totally justified.”
The line can be blurred between creative expression using existing IPs and plagiarizing concepts. But what this trial has made clear is that tightly-wound intellectual property standards exist even in newfound worlds like the metaverse and Web3 — regulations that not even the most buzzy and publicly popular creatives can escape from.
Despite the loss, there is hope amongst the virtual community that Rothschild will return to the NFT scene with fresh ideas. For luxury, it’s a stark reminder on the importance of protecting value and IP in Web3 to deter copying. But the result is also a warning sign to smaller digital artists of the power that these big fashion houses have — and will continue to — hold in the metaverse, and the consequences that can arrive with them.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.