New York Artist Sues Martin Shkreli Over Publication Of Wu-Tang Clan Artwork

10 February 2016 | 6:38 pm | Staff Writer

Jason Koza is seeking damages for the allegedly unauthorised use of portraits in the accompanying book for the rap collective's one-of-a-kind LP

More Wu-Tang Clan More Wu-Tang Clan

Long Island-based illustrator Jason Koza is suing ex-pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli along with Wu-Tang Clan member RZA, producer Cilvaringz and auction site Paddle8 over the allegedly unauthorised use and consequent republication of his artwork in an accompanying book for the rap collective's one-of-a-kind LP, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin.

As originally reported by TMZ — and since elaborated upon by several US outlets, including Billboard — Koza has filed a complaint with the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York after discovering that nine portraits he created of Wu-Tang members had been included in a 174-page leather-bound book sold as part of the crew's once-off album, bought for $US 2 million by Shkreli in December, via auction on Paddle8.

According to Koza's complaint (which refers to the illustrator as both "a great artist" as well as "one of the most talented portrait artists of the Second Millennium"), he created the portraits — which, to be fair, are really damn good — in late 2013 and early 2014 and submitted them to Wu-Tang fan-site "for the limited purpose of public display on that website". 

The complaint explains that "Mr Koza was happy when his work appeared on the website and went about his life for the next approximately two years", and that he was contacted by Cilvaringz — real name Tarik Azzougarh — in April 2014 in a series of emails that indicated that the group would be interested in using Koza's art as part of the album package, but no agreement was ever reached.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

"The April 2014 email exchange between Mr Azzougarh and Mr Koza did not include a request … for permission to copy, distribute, or publicly display Mr Koza's Wu-Tang Clan Portraits," the complaint says. It was not until 29 January this year — when Vice published an interview with Shkreli, the new owner of the album, showing reproductions of three of Koza's portraits — that he was made aware his work had allegedly been used without his permission. The portraits in question were of Ol' Dirty BastardRaekwon and Inspectah Deck.

"Mr Koza 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 website for the limited purpose of displaying the works thereon," Koza's complaint continues.

"On January 31, 2016, Mr Azzougarh emailed Mr Koza with the following message, tacitly admitting the unauthorised nature of his use of Mr Koza's work: '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.'"

On 1 February, Koza filed copyright claims for his artwork, and his lawsuit explains that the artist is seeking damages for breach of copyright and breach of implied-in-fact contract as a result of the fact he never received payment for the use of the portraits. 

The defendants make unlikely allies, given Shkreli's recent well-publicised feud with the Clan, most notably Ghostface Killah, with the pair trading barbs on video in the months following the sale and the latter openly dismissing "PeeWee" Shkreli as "the man with the 12-year-old body".

Koza is seeking unspecified damages in the suit, though, as the New York Daily News reports, the book stands to be impounded or destroyed if the artist is successful in his claim.

Regardless of the messiness arising from the case, one thing's for sure — Koza's work is now reaching a wider audience than ever before, as well it should; just take a look at his Photo Stream on Facebook and be amazed — everyone from Johnny Depp and David Bowie to Patrick Stewart, Gwen Stefani, Dave Grohl, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, The Beatles and the casts of GhostbustersArrested Development, Seinfeld, the Star Wars saga and It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia have been rendered by his ink, and they're all pretty damn glorious