Aussie museum on the sidelines of lawsuit over world’s rarest album


Source: MONA

In a courtroom on the other side of the world, the legitimate owners of the world’s rarest album have successfully blocked a convicted pharmaceutical businessman from further streaming or downloading its master tracks.

And that’s good timing, as one of Australia’s most unique museums – Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) – is about to legitimately host the secretly recorded album by the Wu-Tang Clan on loan by owners, a digital art collective called PleasrDAO, for just one week as part of its Namedropping exhibit.

Wu-Tang Clan formed in New York in 1992 and is considered one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time.

Only one copy of the 128-minute double-album, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, exists on two CDs. They were pressed in 2014 after six years of clandestine recordings.

The 31-track work, which is enclosed in a hand-carved nickel-silver box, was stored in a vault in Morocco before being auctioned in 2015.

MONA says it has been heard by only a handful of people around the world and it is the first loan to a museum since the original sale.

In a statement, PleasrDAO said it was honoured to partner with MONA to support Wu-Tang Clan’s vision.

“Ten years ago, the Wu-Tang Clan had a bold vision to make a single-copy album as a work of fine art,” Reuters reported.

“To ‘put it in an art gallery … make music become a living piece like a Mona Lisa or a sceptre from Egypt’.”

The former drug company executive Martin Shkreli in 2017. Photo: AAP

Album originally bought by ‘Pharma Bro’

Martin Shkreli paid $US2 million ($3 million) in 2015 for Shaolin, and gave it up to partially satisfy a $US7.4 million forfeiture order after his 2017 conviction for defrauding hedge fund investors and scheming to defraud investors.

It had changed hands several times before being bought by PleasrDAO in 2021 for $US4 million ($6 million).

The album’s master tracks were deleted and it cannot be streamed or downloaded. A legal agreement means the album cannot be commercially exploited until 2103, although it can be played at listening parties.

On June 10, a New York court heard Shkreli – nicknamed Pharma Bro – made copies and was releasing the music to the public.

PleasrDAO alleged Shkreli has, since his May 2022 release from prison, told fans on live-streams and social media platform X that he kept and had shared the album, once saying, “I was playing it on YouTube the other night even though somebody paid $4 million for it.”

PleasrDAO also said thousands of people tuned in on Sunday to hear the album on a live-stream that Shkreli called a “Wu tang official listening party”.

Such activity violates the forfeiture order, amounts to misappropriation of trade secrets, and “greatly diminishes and/or destroys the album’s value”, according to the complaint filed on Monday night (local time) in Brooklyn federal court.

PleasrDAO wants Shkreli to destroy his copies, turn over profits from disseminating the music, and pay compensatory and punitive damages.

US District Judge Pamela Chen issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday (local time) that blocks Shkreli from disseminating the album, or risk contempt of court.

She may issue an injunction later in June.

Lawyers who have represented Shkreli in criminal and civil matters declined to comment or did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Shkreli became notorious and gained the nickname “Pharma Bro” when, as chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals in 2015, he raised the price of the life-saving anti-parasitic drug, Daraprim overnight to $US750 ($1133) per tablet from $US17.50 ($26.40).

He was released early from his seven-year prison sentence, but remains on supervised release.

Shkreli was banned in January 2022 from the pharmaceutical industry and ordered to repay $US64.6 million ($97.6 million) for antitrust violations related to Daraprim.

A federal appeals court upheld the ban and payout in January

The hand-carved nickel-silver box that houses a copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Photo: AAP

Meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead for MONA.

The gallery will put the album on display and will also host ticketed free listening parties in which a curated half-hour mix of the album will be played from a personalised Wu-Tang Clan PlayStation.

“Every once in a while, an object on this planet possesses mystical properties that transcend its material circumstances,” director of curatorial affairs Jarrod Rawlins said in May.

“[It] is more than just an album, so when I was thinking about status, and what a transcendent Namedrop could be, I knew I had to get it into this exhibition.”

A MONA spokesperson told The New Daily they were unable to respond in relation to the latest developments.

-with AAP

The album will be on display at MONA from June 15-24

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