Martin Shkreli Sued for Allegedly Copying One-of-a-Kind Wu-Tang Clan Album

The lawsuit alleges Shkreli played the music on social media and bragged about it.

Martin Shkreli outside the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, 2017. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

The media-dubbed “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, who served four years of a seven-year sentence in prison for securities fraud, is now facing a lawsuit alleging he copied the secret Wu-Tang Clan album he was forced to sell after his conviction.

Wu-Tang Clan, the pioneering hip-hop group formed on Staten Island in 1992, sold its album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin (2015) to Shkreli for $2 million in a 2015 auction by Paddle8. It was seized by the U.S. government, which sold it to PleasrDAO, a collective of digital art enthusiasts and cryptocurrency investors, for $4.75 million in 2021.

The album, released as a single physical copy enclosed in a handcrafted silver and nickel case, stands as a unique artistic statement that challenges the commodification and mass production of music in the digital age and draws parallels to fine art, a field where scarcity enhances value and significance. When the album was sold to PleasrDAO, the ownership deed came in the form of an NFT.

The one known copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has been sold to a new owner after being seized by the government. Photo by the United States Marshals Service.

The one known copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has been sold to a new owner after being seized by the government. Photo by the United States Marshals Service.

PleasrDAO filed its lawsuit against Shkreli in a Brooklyn federal court on June 10, alleging that he shared recordings from the album with thousands of people during a livestream he hosted on social media that he called a “Wu-Tang Official Listening Party.”

The lawsuit also made jabs at Shkreli for jacking up the price of the life-saving AIDS drug Daraprim by 5,500 percent, from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

“Shkreli improperly retained copies of the data and files at the time of the forfeiture and has released and/or intends to release them to the public,” the lawsuit reads. “Such actions would cause PleasrDAO to incur significant monetary and irreparable harm and give rise to numerous claims for relief under the forfeiture order and common law.”

PleasrDAO claims the original purchase agreement signed by Shkreli imposed restrictive covenants that largely barred him from duplicating, replicating, or exploiting the album, with allowances for exhibition playing in spaces not considered a music venue. If Shkreli were to sell the album, the original contract would be binding to the third-party buyer.

“Yeah, that’s the Wu-Tang album for all you crazy streamer people,” Shkreli allegedly said during a livestream to his followers in June 2022 after his release from prison.

During another livestream, he was asked by a follower if his retained a copy of the album. “I was playing it on YouTube the other night even though somebody paid $4 million for it,” Shkreli responded. And in another, he said that “of course” he made copies which he said are “hidden in safes all around the world.”

“I’m not stupid,” Shkreli said. “I don’t buy something for $2 million just so I can keep one copy.”

Earlier this year, the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania announced it would allow free ticket-holders to listen to a 30-minute mix of the 31-track album during twice-daily events from June 15 to 24. It will mark the first time the album has been loaned to a museum.

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