As summer winds down, and the leaves begin to change colors, barbecue playlists are being shelved in exchange for the melancholoy beats of fall. That means putting away one of the most popular pool songs of the past decade- Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin.” However, Jay-Z might be getting ready to open his over-stuffed wallet to pay for that song’s popularity. The beat that made the song famous is actually part of the musical composition “Khosara, Khosara”, and is now the subject of a lawsuit.

Baligh Hamdi is the Egyptian composer of “Khosara, Khosara”, which was used in the 1960 Egyptian film Fata Ahlami. The rights to the song were passed on to Hamdi’s children when he died in 1993. In 1995 his children then elected to license those rights for sound recording. Here is where Jay enters the picture. Jay-Z acquired the rights, he believes legally, and used the song to create his song that has been a party staple for years.

When Jay-Z used the beat from “Khosara, Khosara” he altered it by only looping a small portion of the original track, and rapping over it. Thereby altering the original lyrics and beat, because music from 1960s Egyptian movies doesn’t usually spell a chart topping rap hit. Now, Hamdi’s heirs are suing Jay-Z, alleging that he violated their “moral rights.” Now Egyptian copyright law is getting involved. Under Egypt’s copyright law you have both “moral rights” and “economic rights.” The plaintiffs now claim that when Jay-Z acquired the rights all he received was the “economic rights,” which only allow him to reproduce the music, perform the music or distribute the music. Those “economic rights” do not allow for the alterations that Jay-Z made when using the song to create “Big Pimpin.”

Ahab Joseph Nafal (one of Hamdi’s heirs) has filed suit in the Central District of California, seeking $5,000,000 in damages. However, this is not the first time that “Big Pimpin” has landed Jay-Z in court. In 2007 Mr. Nafal filed a similar suit, but it was dismissed for failing to join all of the individuals who had the rights to the composition. This time the suit has been filed with all of the necessary parties attached. While Jay-Z is the headlining defendant he is by no means the only one. Other parties named in the suit include Roc-A-Fella Records, Def Jam, Warner Music Group, and probably most notably the music group Linkin Park for a remixed version of the song the group did with Jay-Z for the noted EP Collision Course.

Jay-Z’s legal team tried to get the lawsuit thrown out of court based on the jurisdiction question over Egyptian “moral rights.” On the other side, Mr. Nafal contends that despite Jay-Z working with companies like EMI Music Arabia to obtain the rights, none of the agreements provided for the “derivative works” that Jay-Z ultimately created. Judge Christina Snyder rejected Jay-Z’s motion for dismissal, and is taking the case seriously. Judge Snyder also ruled there will be fact finding to determine “whether the use of ‘Khosara, Khosara’ was outside the scope of the licenses at issue.”

No matter how this suit ultimately ends I imagine that when warm weather rolls around next summer I will again be grilling and swimming to the beat of “Khosara, Khosara”– while Jay-Z raps all over it.

Jeremy Gove

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3 Responses to Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin” Lands Him in Court

  1. Tracy Hancock says:

    Maybe I don’t have the sympathy I should have for the Hamdis, but it seems silly that Jay-Z would need to get permission from all four of the children to loop a small portion of the song behind his rap when he doesn’t need that same permission to perform or distribute the original work. Moreover, Jay-Z attempted to obtain the necessary rights. I suspect that the economic rights are, generally, more valuable than the moral rights. In other words, had Jay-Z attempted to get both initially, he would’ve had to pay more for the economic rights.

    Though this final point doesn’t matter legally…I suspect that Hamdi’s original song would never have achieved any fame in this country without the help and alteration of our beloved Jay-Z.

  2. wpickens says:

    I would be interested to see what “moral rights” arguments Jay-Z’s lawyers made and what the judge thought of them. Jeremy, do you know whether they were arguing that Nafal only had moral and not economic rights to the song? Can “moral rights” ever sustain any kind of claim (in the US or civil law countries)? Seems like it shouldn’t, particularly a claim for damages…

  3. spals says:

    It’s like a more sophisticated Vanilla Ice.