Moral rights case against Jay-Z allowed to proceed

By | Published on Friday 6 May 2011


A US judge has allowed a lawsuit against Jay-Z and an assortment of entertainment companies to proceed, in relation to his 2000 track ‘Big Pimpin’, even though the case is, in the main, based on elements of Egyptian copyright law, including its interpretation of moral rights.

The children of the late Egyptian film composer Baligh Hamdy sued over the use of a sample of one of their father’s works in the hip hop track. Jay-Z’s people had licensed the piece of music in question, which comes from the 1960 Egyptian film ‘Fata Ahlami’, but – say the Hamdy family – they had the licence to make a mechanical copy of the piece of music, not to adapt it. Moreover, they reckon Jay-Z’s use of the piece of music constituted a ‘mutilation’ of the original work, and therefore the moral rights of Hamdy’s descendents have been infringed.

Lawyers for the defence argued that most of the Hamdy lawsuit relied on principles of Egyptian copyright law which don’t exist in the American copyright system, and therefore the litigation could not be pursued through the US courts. But Judge Christina Snyder did not concur with that argument, and has let the case proceed. Although their arguments do mainly relate to the Egyptian copyright system, she said the family had a strong enough case under US law for their lawsuit to go to a full hearing.

US copyright law does recognise the concept of moral rights but, as in the UK, it’s a weak part of the copyright system that wouldn’t really apply when a piece of music is cut up and mashed into a rap track, however much the original composer disliked the results. How well the Hamdy’s arguments will fair in a full court hearing remains to be seen, but it should be an interesting case to watch.