Martin Shkreli, charged with securities fraud and brought before the “imbeciles” of Congress for jacking up the price of lifesaving drugs, now has another, if much smaller, problem on his hands.
The former drug company executive’s one-of-a-kind, $2 million Wu-Tang Clan album includes nine portraits of the rap group’s founding members used without permission, according to a complaint filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. The artist, Jason Koza, has sued Shkreli, record producers Robert “RZA” Diggs and Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, and Paddle8, the online auction startup hired to sell the album.
Koza, an artist and musician in Copiague, claims he created portraits of each of the group’s founders for the fan website WuDisciples.blogspot.com in late 2013 and early 2014 but never agreed to their use in the 174-page book that accompanied the album, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.”
He says that on Jan. 29 he saw an article published by Vice.com including photos of three of his Wu-Tang Clan portraits: “Raekwon-Koza,” “Inspecta Deck-Koza” and “Ol’ Dirty B — tard-Koza.” He claims he applied for registration with the U.S. Copyright Office on Feb. 1, and that Shkreli infringed his rights by allowing the three portraits to be publicly displayed.
Koza is seeking unspecified damages from Diggs, Azzougarh, Paddle8 and Shkreli for infringing copyright and from Diggs, Azzougarh and Paddle8 for violating an implied contract with the artist. Shkreli’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, and a Paddle8 spokeswoman, Sarah Goulet, declined to comment on Koza’s claims. Diggs and Azzougarh didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the case.
Paddle8 announced in November that Wu-Tang Clan had sold the 31-track album, which came with a hand-carved box and a leather-bound book with lyrics, pictures and background on the songs. Bloomberg Businessweek reported the buyer was Shkreli.
Shkreli is accused of using one of his biotechnology companies as a piggy bank to pay off investors who lost money in hedge funds he ran; he has pleaded not guilty. He became infamous last year for raising the price of a rare drug by more than 5,000 percent and provoked further outrage on social media with stunts like spending millions on the album, which music fans are desperate to hear, only to tell Bloomberg Businessweek that he had no immediate plans to listen to it.
Last week Shkreli declined to answer questions in a drug prices hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. Afterward he posted a tweet calling the committee members “imbeciles.”