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New filing in moral rights action against Jay-Z

By | Published on Friday 3 March 2017


Lawyers for the family of late Egyptian film composer Baligh Hamdi filed new legal papers earlier this week as part of their ongoing appeal in an interesting moral rights case targeting Jay-Z and Timbaland.

As previously reported, the rapper and the producer were accused of infringing the rights of Hamdi by sampling a piece of his music in their 2000 single ‘Big Pimpin’. But Timbaland’s people had licensed the sample from an EMI subsidiary, which had a relationship with an Egyptian company, which had a relationship with Hamdi.

However the composer’s family argued that neither EMI nor its Egyptian partner were empowered to license the sample, and even if they were, doing so for a track of this nature infringed Hamdi’s moral rights under Egyptian law. The moral rights claim centres on the content of the Jay-Z track, which Hamdi’s family say his music shouldn’t be associated with.

Moral rights give songwriters and composers certain rights over their work even if the actual copyright has been assigned to another party. Quite how moral rights work varies greatly around the world, and the concept is somewhat alien to US copyright law.

With that in mind, Jay-Z’s people immediately argued that the Hamdi family’s case was entirely about moral rights under Egyptian law and therefore couldn’t be pursued in an American court. The judge originally let the case proceed despite those arguments, but in 2015 ruled that, based on the testimony of Egyptian law experts, the Hamdi family did not have enough standing to pursue the action.

Team Hamdi began their appeal last year, and in a new court filing this week their legal rep writes: “Setting aside semantics and dicta (and accusations and invective), this case boils down to a rather unremarkable proposition: Plaintiff owns, under the law of the country of origin of his copyright (Egypt), the right to protect his copyright from fundamental changes, and the US Copyright Act recognises the right owned by plaintiff and expressly prohibits Americans from violating Plaintiff’s right”.

Hamdi’s family, therefore, it is argued, should have standing to sue in “the only court that would have the power to stop defendants’ extensive, continuing, unauthorised, and (yes) vulgar and unfortunate distortion of plaintiff’s work in America”.

The family’s lawyers are asking for a new court hearing and a new judge to hear the case.