‘Pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli accused of copying $4m one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album

‘Pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli accused of copying $4m one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album

Pharma broMartin Shkreli has been accused of copying and distributing a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, worth $4m, according to a new lawsuit.

The suit is filed by PleasrDAO, a digital art collective that bought the album from the DoJ in 2021 after Shkreli was forced to give it up as part of $7.4m in assets seized by a federal court. That followed his conviction for securities fraud. The suit accuses him of violating the terms of both the original purchase agreement and the forfeiture order by allegedly making and retaining a digital copy of the album, playing it during his live streams, and sending it to others.

Shkreli, who received his “Pharma bro” nickname after his company raised the price of the life-saving drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750, bought the album for $2m at auction. PleasrDAO purchased it for $4m.

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is sometimes referred to as the most valuable album ever made, and was recorded in secret between 2006 and 2013. It sits in an ornate silver box and consists of two CDs with a leather-bound manuscript containing lyrics and a legal agreement stating that the owner cannot release the tracks for 88 years, or until 2103.

The album was designed as a statement on the way music streaming and piracy had cheapened the value of music, and the band said they wanted to have a “400-year-old Renaissance-style approach to music”.

It is not known how many people have listened to the album, but the only confirmed playing of it was at an event for 150 art experts, rap fans, and prospective buyers at New York’s MoMa in 2015, while Shkreli allegedly streamed portions of the album online when Donald Trump won the US presidential election in 2016.

Martin Shkreli (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Martin Shkreli (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Meanwhile, the suit accuses Shkreli of admitting to playing portions of the album to his followers on three occasions in 2022, a year after he was forced to give it up, and then again on multiple occasions this year.

A month after he was released from prison on May 18, 2022, Shkreli admitted during a livestream that he was playing Once Upon a Time in Shaolin for his followers, the lawsuit says. “Yeah, that’s the Wu-Tang album for all you crazy streamer people,” Shkreli allegedly said.

A few days later, on June 22, 2022, Shkreli allegedly admitted to still having a copy of the album, adding, “I was playing it on YouTube the other night even though somebody paid $4m for it.”

Then, on a June 30, 2022 stream, Shkreli allegedly played portions of the album again and said, “Of course I made MP3 copies, they’re like hidden in safes all around the world… I’m not stupid. I don’t buy something for two million dollars just so I can keep one copy.”

Earlier this year, Shkreli admitted to having copies of the album again in numerous replies to Pleasr when the company posted a photo of the album on Twitter, according to the lawsuit. “LOL I have the mp3s you moron”, Shkreli allegedly wrote in one reply.

“I literally play it in my discord all the time,” he wrote in another. He also wrote: “This thread is about someone listening to a CD >5000 people have…”; and “yeah I have the music, sold the plastic.” In response to some Twitter users in the same thread expressing a desire to hear the album, Shkreli allegedly said, “i can just upload the mp3s if you want? email addy?”

Then again in May this year, Shkreli allegedly said in a YouTube video that he had “burned the album and sent it to like, 50 different chicks,” before quipping, “Do you know how many blowjobs that album got me?” the lawsuit says.

Not long after, he posted on X, “look out for a torrent im sick of this shit @PleasrDAO.” And then, as recently as this past Sunday, June 9, Shkreli allegedly played the album during a “Spaces” session on X to an estimated 4,900 listeners.

Pleasr are asking the court to force Shkreli to destroy his copies of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin and forfeit any money he may have made from sharing the album. They’re also seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Shkreli seemed unphased by the lawsuit, posting on X: “PleasrDAO never voted or discussed this litigation with members. You will easily lose this legal retardation. The pleasr members don’t support this gayness. See you in court!”

The lawsuit comes a few days before the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, Australia, opens an exhibition that will feature Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, on loan from Pleasr.

The museum will hold free, ticketed listening sessions from 15 to 24 June so members of the public can listen to a “curated” 30-minute mix of the album, played from a personalised Wu-Tang Clan PlayStation 1 in Mona’s Frying Pan Studios.

In 2018, Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud and other offenses and was sentenced to seven years in prison after raising the price of an anti-parasitic drug mainly used by those with HIV/AIDs from $13.50 to $750 in 2015.

The strategy forced “many patients and physicians to make difficult and risky decisions for the treatment of life-threatening diseases,” the New York attorney general’s office said in a news release in 2022.

In January 2022, a judge ordered him to repay $64.6m in profits he made from the scheme, ruling that he had violated laws against monopolies and had conspired to keep generic versions of the drug off the market.

He was also given a lifetime ban from working in the pharmaceutical industry.