Jay Z, Timbaland cleared in copyright case

NEW YORK • A federal judge has ruled that rapper Jay Z and producer Timbaland will not face a copyright infringement claim over the hit single Big Pimpin', ending a complex eight-year lawsuit that involved the sampling of a decades- old Egyptian song.

A week into a trial in a United States District Court in Los Angeles, Judge Christina Snyder announced on Wednesday that the plaintiff in the case, Mr Osama Ahmed Fahmy - whose uncle, Baligh Hamdi, composed the original song, Khosara Khosara - did not have standing to pursue his infringement claim.

The case, which has been closely watched by the entertainment industry, delved into thorny issues of international copyright - including the issue of "moral rights" that are common outside the US. It also followed two other prominent music copyright cases this year, involving Robin Thicke's song Blurred Lines and Happy Birthday To You.

Jay Z and Timbaland recorded Big Pimpin' in 1999, using a snippet of a flute from Khosara Khosara, which had appeared in the 1960 film Fata Ahlami. To use that sample, they paid US$100,000 to EMI, the company that controlled the licensing for Hamdi's song outside Egypt.

But in 2007, Mr Fahmy sued, saying that his uncle's song had been used without proper permission. Paramount Pictures, EMI, Warner Music and various other entertainment companies were also named as defendants.

Mr Fahmy's lawyers argued that even though EMI controlled the so-called economic rights to the song, by altering Hamdi's original song, Jay Z and Timbaland had "mutilated" Hamdi's moral rights, which require the permission of the author or his heirs. Hamdi died in 1993.

On Wednesday, the judge rejected that idea, saying that Mr Fahmy could not sue because he signed away economic rights to the song and could not assert moral rights outside Egypt. The decision effectively ended the case, although Mr Keith Wesley, a lawyer for Mr Fahmy, said he intended to appeal.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2015, with the headline 'Jay Z, Timbaland cleared in copyright case'. Subscribe