Jay Z’s big copyright win for ‘Big Pimpin’!

Shawn Corey Carter aka Jay Z, the internationally acclaimed hip hop star and his producer Timothy Mosley have won the eight years old long drawn out copyright suit stemming from their 1999 chart topping song ‘Big Pimpin’ against the Egyptian Osama Fahmy[1].

The nephew (Fahmy) of late Baligh Hamdi, an Egyptian composer whose 1957 song ‘Khosara Khosara’ is partially used in Big Pimpin’ had alleged that Jay Z and his producer did not have Hamdi family’s permission to use the sample of the song. He contended that the flute composition used in the impugned song violates the moral rights of his late uncle. Jay Z asserted that since they held a license (they paid $100,000 to EMI Music Arabia for the license in 2001) to use portions of ‘Khosara’ in the impugned song they cannot be held liable for copyright infringement. To counter this, Fahmy had argued that by licensing the song, only the economic rights were given up and not the moral rights.

The purpose of economic rights is to provide monetary benefits to the copyright owner. Moral rights, on the other hand,aim to protect the personality and reputation of the artist. It is a personal, non-economic rights vested with the artist which comprises of two rights – the paternal right which is the artists’ right to have his name on a work, to use a pseudonym and to remain anonymous; and secondly the right to integrity which bars the work from unjust alteration, distortion, or mutilation of the original work.The concept of moral rights relies on connection between the artist and his/her original creation. Even if the copyrights in a work have been assigned to a third party, one still maintains the moral rights in the work. Anything else that may detract from the artist’s relationship with the work even after it leaves the artist’s possession or ownership may bring these moral rights into play.[2]

The California Federal Court in the present case held that Fahmy ‘lacked the standing’ for his copyright suit. It was declared that there was no ‘mutilation or distortion’ of the original work and hence no breach of the moral rights under the US Copyright law. On the question as to whether Egyptian moral rights were breached over the American license, the Court stated that Fahmy could not sue because he signed away economic rights to the song, and could not assert moral rights outside Egypt.

If newspaper articles are to be believed,Fahmy may appeal against this decision.

[1] Osama Ahmed Fahmy vs. Jay Z et al, Case No. 2:07-cv-05715-CAS(PJWx) Available at: https://assets.documentcloud.org /documents/2435061/fahmy-limine.pdf (Last viewed on 29 October 2015).

[2] “Moral Rights in Works of Visual Art in the U.S.” Available at: http://www.copyrightlaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Moral-rights-in-the-US.pdf (Last viewed on 30 October 2015).

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