Pay $1 to Hear Wu-Tang Clan’s Secret Album (Eventually)

Pleasr, also known as PleasrDAO, has also portrayed “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” as a kind of precursor of NFTs, recapturing the value of artistic scarcity in a digital age. The group, a “decentralized autonomous organization,” has been on the frontier of digital art, acquiring items like an NFT related to the image of a dog that inspired the “doge” meme of the 2010s.

“It’s always our intention,” Camilla McFarland, a member of the collective, said in a group interview on Thursday, “to take these original works of art and figure out a way, in honoring the original vision of the artist, to get it into the hands of the people.”

Since Pleasr acquired the album in 2021 from the federal government — which had seized it from Shkreli after he was convicted of securities fraud — the group has been trying to find ways to share it with the public. This month the album will be displayed at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, off the southern coast of Australia. Last weekend Pleasr hosted private listening sessions in New York.

But the Wu-Tang album has brought in the additional complexity of music rights, which now also involves a lawsuit against Shkreli. This week, Pleasr sued Shkreli, saying that, after he had relinquished ownership of the album, he livestreamed parts of it, apparently from copies, in violation of the sale contract. (Shkreli, who was released from prison in 2022, said on social media that Pleasr “will easily lose” the case.)

The lawsuit made public the original sale contract, with minimal redactions. That document makes clear that RZA and Cilvaringz sold only 50 percent of their recording and composition rights; keeping half apparently gave them a mechanism to enforce the terms of the deal. In its complaint, Pleasr said that in addition to the $4 million it spent on the album, it has paid another $750,000 for the copyrights to the recordings.

But there seem to be additional rights that Pleasr must navigate before fully releasing the album. Those may well include clearance licenses for samples.

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