Since releasing his mega-hit song, “Big Pimpin,” which Rolling Stone named as one of the top 500 songs of all-time, rapper Jay-Z (real name Shawn Carter) has been swamped with litigation from various Egyptians who claim Jay-Z infringed on their instantly-recognizable underlying hook.
On one hand, an Egyptian man who claims to have a valid copyright over the musical composition “Khosara, Khosara,” which he claims was used by Jay-Z in “Big Pimpin,” has repeatedly been unsuccessful in attempts to show that he has standing to pursue a lawsuit.
On the other hand, another Egyptian man, the nephew of Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdy, who originally wrote the tune for the 1960 Egyptian film “Fata Ahlami,” has experienced much more success.
So much so that a coming trial might soon examine whether Jay-Z will have to hand over a percentage of his recent revenue from concerts.
Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdy’s heirs licensed the “Khosara, Khosara” song in 1995, and Jay-Z believed he had a valid agreement to use the song. But Egyptian copyright law leans heavily on a concept known as “moral rights,” which not only confer economic ownership to authors over a work, but also the ability to control the fate of works.
The Egyptians who claim ownership of “Khosara, Khosara” were angry at Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin,” feeling that he had ruined the song. They say, if Jay-Z wished to “mutilate” the original song by sampling it, looping it and adding his lyrics, they argued, he needed to get their permission.
Fahmy, an heir of original composer Baligh Hamdy, proved to a judge last May that he had standing to pursue a copyright infringement case, applying Egyptian law against Jay-Z and other defendants.
In his response, Jay-Z argued that Fahmy had been aware of the “Big Pimpin” alleged infringement since 2000, so the statute of limitations had run its course.
Ultimately, the judge decided that Jay-Z was right, that the plaintiff had more than enough time to bring this lawsuit sooner.
But that doesn’t end the case. It only means that Fahmy can only collect revenue from 3 years prior to the 2007 filing of the lawsuit until now.
If that’s merely record sales, it might be a limited amount. “Big Pimpin” came out more than a decade ago, and probably a bulk of the sales came in its first couple of years on the marketplace. But potentially more is at stake.
In Fahmy’s motion, he argues that Jay-Z should have to pay him a portion of his concert receipts since he likely continues to perform one of his biggest hits and continues to infringe the moral rights to “Khosara, Khosara.”
Against Jay-Z’s objection to this argument, California judge Christina Snyder has ruled that it is a triable issue whether profits from the concerts are directly or merely indirectly attributable to “Big Pimpin.” In other words, would concert goers be attending Jay-Z performances if they knew he wasn’t performing the song?
In the decision, Judge Snyder wrote:
“This case may be more akin to the infringing use of copyrighted songs as part of a larger musical revue, an infringing use of a painting in a textbook, and one infringing poem contained in a poetry anthology, than the infringing use of copyrighted text or images to promote season tickets for the symphony, or the sale of a car — but that is up to a jury to decide.”
A trial date has not been set yet.