After a week of testimony from music superstars and a debate over international copyright law, US district judge Christina Snyder has ruled that Jay Z isn't liable for an uncleared sample that helped to make up his 1999 hit "Big Pimpin'." The case regarding the sample's legitimacy won't be seen by a jury.
Jay Z and producer Timbaland were sued by Osama Fahmy, the nephew of Egyptian musician Baligh Hamdi. Hamdi's song "Khosara Khosara" was sampled for the intro to "Big Pimpin'." Fahmy contended that Jay Z and Timbaland illegally sampled the song, claiming it couldn't be sampled without permission from Hamdi's heirs.
The claim is based on the Egyptian copyright concept of "moral rights," which persist despite the fact that Hamdi's family sold the rights to "Khosara Khosara" to label Sout El Phan in 2002. Sout El Phan then licensed the song to EMI Arabia for use outside of Egypt. Under Egyptian law, moral rights are the original author's non-transferrable right to approve and decline works derived from the original piece of content. Moral rights are rarely enforced in the United States, and the debate over their application in this case was one of the lawsuit's core battles.
"Legal just told me, "$100 grand and you're clear'"
After EMI approached Timbaland with an out-of-court claim for "Khosara Khosara," the producer stated he paid $100,000 to license the song from EMI in 2001 after learning the song's rights were contentious. "EMI reached out to my lawyers, who got in touch with me and said, 'there's a red flag,'" said Timbaland in court, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "Legal just told me, '$100 grand and you’re clear,'"
The plaintiff's lawyers have argued that EMI never had clearance to license the rights to Timbaland. While trials over song samples are far from prevalent, this is the second major case in as many years after Marvin Gaye's family sued and won $7.3 million in its case against Robin Thicke and Pharrell for "Blurred Lines." That ruling is currently being appealed.