Fans accuse Chinese NFT collection of copying Bored Ape Yacht Club, but its creator says the resemblance is a coincidence

February 15, 2022, 9:11 AM UTC

The world of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, is no stranger to scandal: Big brands have sued NFT creators for copyright infringement; scammers have made off with millions in stolen funds after running “rug pull” operations in which they raise funds for projects that never come to fruition; and theft is rife. And now in China, local aficionados are accusing a creator of copying some of the most well-known NFTs in the world.

Last week, Chinese fans accused one local NFT creator of outright plagiarism, claiming that the popular Bored Wukong collection of digital images—one of the most popular avatar series on domestic marketplace NFTCN—bears a striking resemblance to avatars created by the globally popular Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) franchise.

China’s Bored Wukong collection, which launched in November of last year, is an anthology of 390 cartoon monkey portraits in which each ape sports a bizarre and, to some degree, unique array of accessories. The NFT series takes its name from Sun Wukong, the famous Monkey King in the epic novel Journey to the West, which was written in the 1500s.

But the concept and styling of Bored Wukong—plus the adjective “bored”—are virtually identical to BAYC’s NFT project, which launched in April 2021, though the accessories on Bored Wukong are far more outlandish than BAYC’s.

Last week, NFT fans in China took aim at the local avatar collection after an article pointing out the similarity between Bored Wukong and BAYC circulated on WeChat, the nation’s ubiquitous messaging platform. The criticism eventually prompted the creator of the Bored Wukong collection, Wang Wendong, to respond in his own WeChat post.

In his letter, Wang, a lecturer at the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, argued that the face shape of his Bored Wukong collective is different from the apes’ in BAYC, and he said that shared traits between NFT collections are akin to human celebrity look-alikes—such as Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, to take Wang’s example.

China’s BAYC fans might not be convinced by Wang’s argument, but it’s a little surprising that the BAYC has defenders in China at all. Beijing’s NFT rules leave BAYC’s ludicrously expensive apes—which cost up to $3.4 million—beyond the reach of the average, law-abiding Chinese citizen.

The central Chinese government in Beijing permits the creation and sale of NFTs, but companies aren’t allowed to make profits from their sale. Consumers can’t purchase NFTs using cryptocurrency and are unofficially prohibited from reselling or speculating on NFTs, too. China has also banned conventional blockchains like Ethereum, which BAYC runs on.

Earlier this month, e-commerce giant Alibaba created its own private blockchain to mint thousands of NFT artworks representing popular winter sports to celebrate the ongoing Beijing Olympics, but the company reminded buyers that the NFTs are non-tradable and can’t be used for “commercial purpose.”

Bored Wukong has skirted some of Beijing’s NFT rules by trading on Chinese marketplace NFTCN, selling its NFTs in renminbi, and transacting on a splinter version of the Ethereum blockchain that separates the marketplace from the international trade in Ethereum’s native cryptocurrency, Ether. By isolating itself from Ether, which is illegal in China, NFTCN appears to have appeased regulators for now.

Despite China cautioning against speculating with “digital collectibles,” NFTs from the Bored Wukong collection are being resold and increasing in price. On NFTCN, one Bored Wukong monkey with blue fur and a halo of animated bananas is listed as selling last December for $100. Now, the ape’s third owner is auctioning the item for $1.4 million.

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