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Jay-Z and Timbaland set to testify in long running moral rights case

By | Published on Thursday 13 August 2015


If you enjoyed Robin Thicke playing piano in court during the ‘Blurred Lines’ plagiarism trial earlier this year, then get October in your diaries, because according to legal papers filed earlier this week both Jay-Z and Timbaland are due to testify in another case focused on copyright technicalities later this year.

This one relates to a very long running US legal battle over Jay-Z’s 2000 track ‘Big Pimpin’, produced by Timbaland. The record includes a sample of a snippet of music by the late Egyptian film composer Baligh Hamdy. The story goes that Timbaland originally thought the sampled bit of music was in the public domain, but when told it was still in copyright, he got a licence from an EMI subsidiary, which had an arrangement with an Egyptian company, which in turn had an arrangement with Hamdy’s heirs.

But the Hamdy family, led by the late composer’s nephew Osama Ahmed Fahmy, subsequently claimed that the sample had not, in fact, been properly licensed, and they sued everyone under the sun in 2007, including Jay-Z, Timbaland, their music industry partners, Paramount Pictures for using the track in a Jay-Z documentary, and MTV for featuring it in a Jay-Z special.

There are various strands to this case, with disputes around the various deals between the various entities that sat between the Hamdy family and Timbaland back in the day. But perhaps most interesting is the claim that, even if the Hamdys had assigned their copyright to the Egyptian publisher which then licensed it via EMI – as Jay-Z and Timbaland’s legal reps insist – the way the rapper and producer then used the snippet of music constituted an infringement of the late composer’s moral rights under Egyptian law.

As previously reported, legal reps for Jay-Z and Timbaland pointed out that no such moral right to stop ‘objectionable’ use of a song existed under American law. On that basis, the defendants tried to have the case dismissed, using the argument that the whole thing hinged on copyright rules outside the jurisdiction of the US courts. But in 2011 an American judge allowed the case to proceed.

The long running litigation is now set to finally reach court in October, with filings made by both sides in preparation for that earlier this week, including confirmation that the offending track’s rapper and producer would both testify. For their part, legal reps for the Hamdy family are promising to present as a witness Judith Finell, the musicologist who testified for the Gaye family during the aforementioned ‘Blurred Lines’ trial.

So hats at the ready, this one could be interesting.