The artist whose drawing graces the cover of the exclusive Wu-Tang album bought by Martin Shkreli joined shareholders and former business partners suing the pharmaceutical bad boy with a federal action of his own.
Shkrelli bought the album at the height of his wealth, and notoriety, after causing his former company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, to raise the price of Daraprim, a life-saving drug, by more than 5,000 percent.
Authorities arrested Shkreli in December 2015 on charges of running a Ponzi-like scheme to rob Peter to pay Paul.
When Shkreli paid about $2 million last year for the sole copy of the hip-hop group’s latest album, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” the purchase included a leather-bound book featuring drawings of Wu Tang Clan’s nine members.
Jason Koza, the 34-year-old artist behind those portraits, now claims in a federal lawsuit that he never gave permission for that use of his work.
The 11-page lawsuit hearkens to the coveted album that no one will hear for 88 years with its opening words, “once upon a time.” It describes the Copiague resident as “one of the most talented portrait artists of the Second Millenium.”
Wu Tang Clan formed on Staten Island in the early 1990s with nine members: The RZA, the GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Inspeca Deck, Raekwon, Ghostface Killa, Masta Killa and U-God. They went on to sell more than 10 million albums in the United States alone.
One of their shticks was to feature liner notes in their cuts depicting them as cartoon characters.
The group allegedly piqued the interest of Koza, himself bassist and guitarist, with an ad in late 2013 or early 2014 on WuDisciples.blogspot.com, the band’s website.
“Every Thursday we will be posting up pics of Wu-Tang artwork from fans, artists and aliens,” it said, according to the complaint. “If you have artwork you would like to share, please email us at WuArtTats@gmail.com.”
Koza, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology who works at the Department of Public Works for the town of Babylon, says he answered the call with portraits portraying the “fanciful style” of each Wu Tang Clan member.
“This story only has one problem,” his lawsuit states. “Mr. Koza never granted a license for his works to be copied or displayed anywhere other than” the blogspot.
Wu Tang Clan recorded “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” in secret over the course of several years.
Tarik Azzougarh and The RZA, whose real name is Robert Diggs, consigned the only copy of the album to Paddle8 for auction, on the condition that the buyer would not be able to distribute it commercially for 88 years.
Prosecutors revealed at a court hearing last week that Shkeli’s investment assets plummeted from $45 million to $4 million since his arrest. The next day, Shkreli enraged members of Congress by invoking the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying about pharmaceutical price gouging.
Shkreli is due back in court to face the music in May.
Koza says he “never gave his permission, express or implied, for any third party to copy, distribute, or publicly display copies of his works, other than his submission to the WuDisciples.blogspot.com website for the limited purpose of displaying the works thereon.”
The artist registered his drawings with the U.S. States Copyright Office earlier this month, and the application remains unprocessed, according to the complaint.
Koza says he’s owed at least $2 million for copyright infringement and breach of contract, according to courthousenews.com.
The complaint names as defendants Shkreli, Diggs, Azzougarh and Paddle8 NY LLC.