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Is Martin Shkreli Delaying the Release of the Kanye West Album? We Asked an Expert

Shkreli claims that the album – which still hasn’t been given a release date – is being delayed because he’s put in an $10million offer to buy it. We asked a music law specialist if he's talking shit.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB
February 13, 2016, 11:25am

You’ve watched the Kanye MSG show; you’ve started to read the initial reaction pieces; you’re assessing the numerous guest features that range from Frank Ocean to Chance the Rapper, remembering the moment Vic Mensa was passed the aux cord, and debating those lines about Taylor Swift and Ray J.

Sound like you? Then you’re also probably wondering when the album will be released in all its glorious CD quality – and what part the pharma-bro and millennial supervillian Martin Shkreli will play in the whole scenario. Because as soon as the festivities concluded on Thursday night, Shkreli sent out the following tweets, where he requested sole ownership of this generation’s most lusted after album.

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aiyo @kanyewest last minute can i buy your album out so it dont get released publicly

— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) February 11, 2016

Here is my initial offer for the album. @kanyewest Thanks for your consideration and I look forward to your response pic.twitter.com/opJ7mlfraK

— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) February 11, 2016

Kanye and his label are legally required to take my offer letter to their Board of Directors. This should delay the album by a few days.

— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) February 11, 2016

While Kanye's Twitter suggests the delays are due to Chance the Rapper pushing for the last minute inclusion of "Waves", Shkreli claims that the album – which still hasn’t been given a release date – is likely to be delayed, simply because he’s put in an offer to buy it. The tweet stating that now has over 4,000 retweets. But how true is his claim? Is Shkreli actually holding back the album of the life, or is he just capitalising on something to further amplify his bullshitting? We fired a couple questions over to music law expert Chris Cooke to find out.

Noisey: Hey Chris! So, tell me, can Shkreli's bid really delay the release of the album or is he tweeting out of his ass? As I understand it, there is no legal practice that says an artist has to thoroughly review a bid from another party before releasing their album – Kanye can just ignore it - right?
Chris: To be honest, I don't know what precise legal obligations Shkreli is referring to in that tweet. And there is the added complication that Universal Music, although based in the US, is ultimately owned by a company listed in Paris. But given that I don't think we have an actual release date for the new record yet anyway – despite last night's preview – even if the offer did have to go up the hierarchy, I can't see how it would delay things in any way. Unless one of those surprise sudden releases has been planned for this weekend.

Shkreli seems to think Kanye himself would be replying to his DMs. Can Kanye even legally sell the record to Shkreli?
It would depend on who owns the copyright in the master recording. With newer acts, that is usually the record company and not the artist. Though big name musicians, once out of their first record contract, may keep hold of their copyright and instead 'license' the recording to a label, that then gets the exclusive right to sell and distribute the music for a set time. Even if Universal had just a licensing deal over the new record, rather than actually owning the recording rights, Kanye would still need to cut the music company into a deal of this kind. Though, to be fair, Shkreli does mention "business partners".

Say Kanye did do a Wu-Tang and gave Shkreli the album – would it benefit him?
The Wu-Tang Clan one-off album release was an interesting project, most artists – including superstar artists – ultimately record music because they want people to hear their music. The fact they can make money out of it is usually a happy aside. And while, for the record label, it’s all about making money from the album itself; for the artist, it’s as much about providing a platform via which to sell concert tickets and do brand deals. And once you add tours and brand partnerships into the mix, $10,000,000 is nowhere near a generous offer.

Still, it keeps Shkreli in the news and, by pretending to try and deprive Kanye’s fans of the new music, it furthers his Bond villain persona. And that seems to be his main priority at the moment.

So, basically, he’s either talking shit or bidding way too low. Cheers Chris!