Ex-Turing chief faces lawsuit over Wu-Tang Clan album

Former drug executive Martin Shkreli (above) owns hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan's Once Upon A Time In Shaolin album containing fan-art portraits by artist Jason Koza, who never gave permission for them to be used that way.
Former drug executive Martin Shkreli (above) owns hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan's Once Upon A Time In Shaolin album containing fan-art portraits by artist Jason Koza, who never gave permission for them to be used that way.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW YORK • Martin Shkreli faces a new legal headache - a lawsuit claiming that his US$2-million (S$2.8-million) Wu-Tang Clan album contains illustrations ripped off from a New York artist, who now wants the former drug executive to pay for them.

In a complaint filed on Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, artist Jason Koza said he never allowed his fan art of nine portraits of the rap group Wu-Tang's founding members to be used in packaging for the hip-hop group's Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, the sole copy of which Shkreli bought.

Shkreli has bragged that he had no plans to listen to the album, but bought it to "keep it from the people".

The 32-year-old is also known for sparking outrage last year among patients, doctors and politicians after his former company Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of the anti-parisitic infection drug Daraprim by more than 5,000 per cent.

Koza, 34, of Copiague, New York, said he thought his nine works would appear only on the website WuDisciples.blogspot.com.

But the Fashion Institute of Technology graduate now blames Wu-Tang leader Robert "RZA" Diggs for including them in the Shaolin album, and Shkreli for allowing three of the portrait works depicting Inspectah Deck, Ol' Dirty Bastard and Raekwon to accompany a Jan 29 article at Vice.com.

He claims he applied for registration on Feb 1 and that Shkreli infringed his rights by allowing the three portraits to be publicly displayed.

"Mr Koza was happy when his work appeared on the website," the complaint said. "Mr Koza never granted a licence for his works to be copied or displayed anywhere (else)."

Other defendants include Paddle8, which auctioned the album, and Wu Tang-affiliated producer Tarik "Cilvaringz" Azzougarh.

Koza said Cilvaringz has acknowledged the infringement, asking in a Jan 31 e-mail "if you want to Skype discussing the use of your drawings. Thanks bro".

Paddle8 announced in November that Wu-Tang Clan had sold the 31-track album, which came with a handcarved box and a leather- bound book with lyrics, pictures and background on the songs. Bloomberg Businessweek reported the buyer was Shkreli.

Mr Benjamin Brafman, a lawyer for Shkreli, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Wu-Tang did not immediately respond to a similar request. A Paddle8 spokesman declined to comment.

Last Thursday, Shkreli invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on drug pricing, and later tweeted that lawmakers in Congress were imbeciles. He also faces separate federal securities fraud charges.

Koza is seeking unspecified damages plus profits stemming from copyright infringement.

His lawyer Peter Scoolidge said in a telephone interview that Shkreli "didn't need to know" the illustrations were protected to be liable.

"There is no intent requirement for copyright infringement," he said.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-Turing chief faces lawsuit over Wu-Tang Clan album'. Print Edition | Subscribe