This battle has been going on for a while but has been going on for over a decade but on Wednesday it saw its first appellate filings, which reveal that the entire case is centred around a dispute over moral rights. 

The 2004 Jay-Z smash hit 'Big Pimpin' produced by hip hop super producer Timbaland, features a sample of Balligh Hamdi's - an Egyptian composer- "Khosara Khosare". In 2015 the case was thrown out by U.S. district Judge Christina Snyder finding that the Claimant's case lacked sufficient grounds on the basis that all Hamdi's rights in the song had been surrendered when the work had been licensed.  On appeal the claimant's attorney Keith Wesley argues that though the work had been licensed, under Egyptian Law moral rights can not be licensed and thus they have a right to enforce it and "prevent unauthorised fundamental alterations" to the work. The challenge her is whether they can enforce these "moral rights" in the U.S.

What are 'Moral' rights ?  

In the UK as a copyright owner you have exclusive rights in your work (see the YMB 5 Things you should know about Copyright blog post), these are divided into two categories: economic rights and moral rights. Unless you assign or license your copyrights (economic), any person using your work without your permission will be infringing copyright law. However, unlike the economic copyrights moral rights can not be transferred.  

Moral rights are an extension of statutory protections you are given as a creator of artistic works. Moral rights protect he emotional and intellectual aspects of your work and are categorised as follows: 

  • The right to be identified as the author or director of a work, often known as paternity right
  • The right to object to derogatory treatment of a work sometimes known as integrity right
  • The right to privacy of certain photographs and films
  • The right to object to false attribution of a work

Though these rights cant be licensed or assigned often there will be a contractual agreement to relinquish your right as a copyright owner to enforce these rights.

Back to 'Big Pimpin'  

The Claimants argue that Jay-Z's lyrics about 'hoes, drugs and spending cheese' are a violation of Hamdi's moral rights and should therefore have the right to sue for copyright infringement. In the U.S. however, the concept of 'moral rights' isn't recognised in the law. 

In a statement published by Billboard Wesley says: "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 U.S. Copyright Act (17 U.S.C.,106(2)) recognizes the right owned by Plaintiff and expressly prohibits Americans from violating Plaintiff's right,"

Jay-Z and Timbaland's legal teams argue that "they paid to use the sample, but Fahmy says they didn't have a right to fundamentally change the work. Fahmy licensed "Khosara" to an Egyptian company named Sout el Phan, which then licensed certain rights to EMI Music Arabia, which reached an agreement with Timbaland after "Big Pimpin'" was released". 

The case continues.