February 11, 2016

Martin Shkreli sued for copyright infringement over Wu-Tang book

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Once Upon In Shaolin, the uber-rare Wu-Tang Clan album.

Once Upon In Shaolin, the uber-rare Wu-Tang Clan album.Image via Youtube

There is too much web content devoted to Martin Shkreli (aka “Pete Campbell’s awful grandson”). The hedge-fund-enfant-terrible turned pharma-oligarch, who became a household name after nakedly pursuing profits in a most unappealing fashion, somehow continues to take up space in the media consciousness. This, despite his being no less terrible than other pharma millionaires, ones who possess a marginally better grasp of optics.

But we continue to hate Shkreli because it feels good to put a punchable face on the abstruse corruption that we all know dictates profit motive at the expense of the poor and the sick. Also, Shkreli (aka “if the phrase ‘I just got a Blade account’ was a human man”) keeps giving us news #content. Arrested for fraud. Going on a date once. And most recently…being sued along with a member of the Wu-Tang Clan for copyright infringement?

Jeremy Burke reports for Business Insider:

Less than a week after his oddly silent Congressional testimony, former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli was named as a defendant in a case tied to his $2 million purchase of a Wu-Tang Clan album.

A self-described “great artist” named Jason Koza filed the copyright lawsuit claiming his portraits of Wu-Tang Clan members were illicitly used in a book that came with the album, called Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.

Aside from Shkreli, defendants in the suit include Robert Diggs (otherwise known as the RZA, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan); Tarik Azzougarh (also known as Cilvaringz, a producer tied to the group); and Paddle 8 (an auction house that handled the sale of the Wu-Tang album to Shkreli).

A brief refresher: Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is an ultra-limited edition album by the iconic hip-hop group, which consists of a single copy that legally cannot be reproduced for profit until 2103. Shkreli bought the album for $2 million, because wealthy people buy assets. It’s what they do. Once Turing’s price hike hit the news, the Clan donated a portion of the $2 million to charity.

Koza’s argument states that his work was used in the book without permission, and that Shkreli violated copyright when he showed the portraits, which Koza originally uploaded to a fan blog, to a Vice reporter in an article about the album.

But this can’t express the sheer beauty of the legal complaint itself. Shall we take a peek?

Once upon a time a great artist named Jason Koza lived in Copiague, New York. Mr. Koza, one of the most talented portrait artists of the Second Millennium, is also a musician and a devoted fan of the New York-based hip-hop group known as the Wu-Tang Clan.
Strong opener! What else you got, Koza?
Mr. Koza’s portraits sometimes incorporate likeness of the subject’s face into fanciful imagery connected with the subject’s art or personal life. For example, one of hiportraits depicts a young Paul McCartney in the mouth of a giant walrus; a reference to the Beatles song titled “I Am the Walrus.” Another depicts Jim Morrison with the body of a lizard and wearing a crown; a reference to Morrison’s nickname “The Lizard King.”
Bracing stuff. The complaint centers on a simple issue common to art in the Internet age; use without proper attribution and compensation. Though Koza had been previously notified by Azzougarh during the album’s recording that the Clan was interested in his portraits, their email chain soon went dead. And considering the uniquely elliptical marketing campaign for this essentially un-buyable album, Koza’s allegedly stolen portraits would have remained a secret to everyone, including the artist himself, had Vice not interviewed Shkreli.
The complaint goes on to allege that Azzougarh tacitly acknowledged the lack of attribution in a recent email, after which Koza quickly registered his drawings with the US Copyright Office and filed the complaint.
Hey Jason, I see we actually have been in touch before, but never completed. I thought we had. Let me know if you want to skype discussing the use of your drawings. Thanks bro. Ringz.”
There’s a certain delicious irony in Shkreli, aka “the human Per Se tasting menu” being lumped into a lawsuit concerning labor theft and price inflation; after all, that’s essentially how he got (in)famous in the first place. But let us stop talking about Shkreli, and let this serve as a reminder that you should properly attribute your images, and that Wu-Tang Clan is, in fact, something to fuck with if a court finds that they didn’t do the same.

Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.

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