As reported by Complete Music, in early March 2017, relatives of the late Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi filed new papers in their ongoing appeal of a moral rights claim against music icons Jay-Z and Timbaland. The case began in 2007, when Hamdi’s family alleged that Jay-Z and Timbaland’s sampling of Hamdi’s music in their 2000 smash hit, “Big Pimpin,” amounted to copyright infringement. Although Timbaland had licensed the sample from EMI and its Egyptian partner, Hamdi’s family argued that those companies did not actually have the right to license Hamdi’s work. Furthermore, Hamdi’s family claimed that, even if other parties had control of the copyright in the sample, licensing it for Jay-Z and Timbaland to use in “Big Pimpin” infringed on Hamdi’s moral rights.
Under Egyptian law, composers retain the moral rights over their work even if they do not own the actual copyright, which means that composers have some control over how their work is adapted by others. In this instance, Hamdi’s family claims that Jay-Z and Timbaland’s use is a “mutilation,” a “vulgar and unfortunate distortion of [his] work,” and that Hamdi’s music should not be associated with the track’s content.
Although the defense argued that Egyptian law shouldn’t apply in American courts, a US judge allowed the case to proceed in 2011 because it found that the case had sufficient support in US law. However, after testimony from Egyptian law experts, the court determined that Hamdi’s estate did not have enough standing to pursue the action and dismissed the claim in 2015. Nevertheless, Hamdi’s family is currently appealing the ruling and seeking a new hearing by a new judge, claiming that the late composer “owns, under the law of the country of origin of his copyright, the right to protect his copyright from fundamental changes,” and that this right is recognized by the US Copyright Act. US copyright law generally does not acknowledge moral rights, so it will be interesting to see how a US court, unfamiliar with the concept of moral rights, will handle the family’s claim.
Prudence Ng is a Sports and Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2019).