Jay-Z Wins Copyright Infringement Case for 'Big Pimpin'

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on June 04, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As of Thursday, Jay-Z's 99 problems no longer include a copyright challenge to his hit song "Big Pimpin." A panel of judges for the Ninth Circuit have ruled in the rapper's favor against the relative of an Egyptian composer who claimed "Big Pimpin" looped four measures of an Arabic flute from the composer's 1957 hit "Khosara." The panel's decision included an analysis of Egyptian law regarding economic and moral infringement rights.

Producer Paid for Song Rights

Jay-Z and hip-hop producer Timbaland at first thought "Khosara" was part of the public domain, but in 2000, Timbaland paid EMI Music Arabia $100,000 for song rights in every country except Egypt. However, the nephew of the song's composer, Baligh Hamdi, sued Jay-Z and hip-hop producer Timbaland, claiming he was the heir to Khosara's copyright, had not given his permission for use of the song, and that their adaptation damaged the song's integrity.

An Heir's Moral Rights vs. Economic Rights

Lawyers for the composer's nephew, Osama Ahmed Fahmy, argued that Egyptian law lets authors assert "moral rights" to their songs and contest alterations of their work. Accordingly, they said, Jay-Z's lyrics regarding drug trafficking and misogyny damaged the integrity of Hamdi and his song.

The three-judge panel ruled in Jay-Z's favor, distinguishing between Egyptian moral rights, royalty rights, and copyrights. The judge's opinion stated that while the nephew had the rights to royalties for all future adaptations of the song, that fact did not "give him standing to sue for copyright infringement" in this case. That's because the right to receive royalties is separate from the economic rights related to copyright. The ruling explained that the same was true under Egyptian law.

As Timbaland's attorney Christine Lepera said, the decision "provides an important road map regarding the distinction between moral rights which are not actionable in the United States, and the economic right in a copyright, which is." The decision affirmed the lower court's ruling and brought an end to a case in which both Timbaland and Jay-Z took the stand.

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