Copyright in musical works: another victory for Jay Z

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The US District Court has rejected a copyright claim brought against the rapper, Jay Z, in respect of his 1999 – and first big – hit, “Big Pimpin'”.

The claim was brought by the nephew of the composer of a 1950s Egyptian love ballad, called “Khosara Khosara”. Specifically, the nephew claimed that Jay Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, and his producer Timbaland, real name Timothy Mosley, had copied the flute notes which are a distinctive part of “Big Pimpin'”. The nephew claimed that Jay Z did not have permission to exploit his uncle’s song.

Whilst there was no dispute that “Khosara Khosara” is sampled on the Jay Z song, in their defence Jay Z and Timbaland maintained that they believed they had a valid licence to use the “Khosara Khosara” notes. They maintained that they had paid $100,000 in 2001 to settle an out-of-court claim from a record company with rights to distribute the composer’s music outside Egypt and that paying other artists to sample their work was commonplace in the rap music industry.

The claim was in fact thrown out on the basis that the claimant lacked the necessary standing to pursue the claim so that the question of whether “Big Pimpin'” infringed “Khosara Khosara” did not need to be put before the jury. The nephew had argued that Jay Z and Timbaland needed to receive permission from the composer’s family. Whilst this might be the case under Egyptian law, it was not the case under US law nor was there any such international rule applicable to this case.

Jay Z is no stranger to copyright litigation, having successfully defended an action earlier this year brought by a sound engineer who was claiming to be the joint owner of the copyright in three albums produced by Jay Z’s record label (and co-defendant). As we have previously reported, that claim was rejected on the basis that the claim was brought out of time and a substantial costs award was made in Jay Z’s favour.