Hermès clashes with artist who created MetaBirkins NFT

Mason Rothschild is accused by the luxury brand of infringing the copyright of its Birkin bag

An employee holds a Hermes diamond and crocodile skin Birkin handbag at Heritage Auctions offices, Beverly Hills, California. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

An employee holds a Hermes diamond and crocodile skin Birkin handbag at Heritage Auctions offices, Beverly Hills, California. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

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The artist behind a colourful collection of fluffy non-fungible tokens (NFT) based on the well-known Birkin bag, who claimed that scammers were profiteering from his idea, has been hit with a similar accusation from fashion house Hermès.

Mason Rothschild, the artist who created NFTs of the bags which have traded for 200 ethereum (about €698,000) in sales as of Friday, estimated that scammers have made $35,000 (€31,000) from selling fake versions of his creations, called MetaBirkins. Mr Rothschild said he saw “more and more fake MetaBirkins sold every hour” through online marketplace OpenSea the day before his collection launched on the same website.

“The people who bought those [NFTs], they can’t get that money back,” Mr Rothschild said. “The blockchain is pretty relentless – you can’t call your credit card company and get it returned, once a transaction goes through, it’s a done deal.”

Ripping off

But Hermès, whose original physical Birkin bags range from $9,000 to $500,000, said Rothschild was ripping off its designs and had infringed the company’s trademark.

“Hermès did not authorise nor consent to the commercialisation or creation of our Birkin bag by Mason Rothschild in the metaverse,” the company said, adding that Hermès has not yet entered the NFT market because it values the “tangible expression of handcrafted physical objects”.

“These NFTs infringe upon the intellectual property and trademark rights of Hermès and are an example of fake Hermès products in the metaverse,” it added.

Problem

The decentralised nature of the NFT world means anyone can easily sell an image for thousands and claim it is theirs, a problem that has triggered widespread accusations of copyright infringement.

“The valuable IP is the original work, which you would argue is the Hermès bag,” said Colin Bell, head of intellectual property at law firm Brabners.

In theory, MetaBirkins is taking away revenue stream from Hermès if it wanted to market its bags as NFTs, he said. “The public could be confused and think the MetaBirkins are official.”

Mr Rothschild declined to comment on Hermès’s and Mr Bell’s statements. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021