NFTs in court: Hermes vs. Rothschild

Photo - NFTs in court: Hermes vs. Rothschild
Court decisions in the MetaBirkins case will determine the boundaries between artist self-expression and commercial enterprises' trademark rights.
In March 2023, Hermes International filed a lawsuit against artist Mason Rothschild (real name Sonny Estival). The French luxury goods manufacturer seeks to strip Rothschild of rights to the NFT "MetaBirkins" collection. 

The collection consists of one hundred non-fungible tokens that depict fashionable and expensive Birkin bags. Hermes says Rothschild sold MetaBirkins NFTs for over $1 million, leading consumers to believe that the NFTs were created or authorized by the Birkin brand. The luxury goods manufacturer alleges that Rothschild misled buyers and considers him a digital speculator taking advantage of NFT technology's hype. Moreover, the company claims that Rothschild's actions have hindered Birkin's future involvement in the non-fungible token space.

In response, Rothschild describes his NFT collection as an ironic tribute to the fashion brand. He argues that he only made $125,000 from the project.
These things are firmly in Warholian art tradition. Basically, they're commenting on commodities. That’s what artists have been doing since Andy Warhol in the early 1960s,
says art critic Blake Gopnik.
A month earlier, a Manhattan federal jury ruled that Rothschild's digital art violated Hermes International's trademark rights. Consequently, the jurors ordered Rothschild to pay $133,000 in damages to the company.

Now, despite the court ruling, Hermes claims Rothschild still sells NFTs. As a result, the manufacturer demands the transfer of the MetaBirkins website, the NFT collection, and all proceeds from token sales. In response, the defendant's lawyer argues that the new lawsuit is an attempt to punish Rothschild for creating art that Hermes disapproves of.

While both parties' arguments may seem absurd, lawyers and artists alike closely follow the case. These legal proceedings are the first to address whether NFTs should be considered works of art protected by freedom of speech or digital forgeries subject to intellectual property laws.

At present, the art community has received a clear message: using brand images, even in modified forms, can result in legal issues. Lawyers believe that the outcome of the Hermes vs. Rothschild case will play a significant role in future legal battles involving NFTs. If the artist is ‘defeated’, it would hurt the non-fungible token market and the digital art industry as a whole.
What we see in the Hermès case is how emerging technologies and historic, age-old brands collide
said Ari Redbord, head of legal and government affairs at blockchain analytics firm TRM Labs.