Rapper Jay-Z and producer Timbaland had no right to use a decades-old Egyptian recording as the hook for their hip-hop hit “Big Pimpin’,” an attorney told a Los Angeles federal jury Tuesday, but the defense countered that the 1957 flute melody was paid for and the lawsuit alleging copyright violations has no merit.
Osama Ahmed Fahmy alleges that the rap mogul — whose real name is Shawn Carter — and the producer lifted a portion of his late uncle’s song “Khosara, Khosara” without paying a licensing fee, according to the suit.
Fahmy’s 2007 suit also names Paramount Pictures, Warner Music, Universal Music Group and MTV among the defendants.
Carter and Timbaland — real name Timothy Mosley — sat quietly with their attorneys during the trial’s opening day.
“Composers everywhere like to keep control over any changes to their work,” plaintiff’s attorney Peter Ross said in his statement. “They don’t want their songs changed without their permission.”
Ross told the civil jury in downtown Los Angeles that the melody’s composer, Baligh Hamdi, was a “romantic” and “elegant” man who would have been “horrified” to learn that his “beautiful and romantic” music had been combined with “something vulgar” to create “Big Pimpin’.”
Fahmy — who is expected to testify through a deposition because he is unable to attend the trial — also argues that using the melody in a song of “Big Pimpin’s” nature was a violation of Hamdi’s moral rights under Egyptian law.
U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder previously ruled that the rap song’s lyrics could not be brought before the jury during the first part of the trial, which will deal with contractual issues.
Had the Egyptian composer known of the sort of “vulgar” and “demeaning” lyrics that would be associated with his melody, Ross argued, “there could not have been approval.”
Mosley contends he found the Hamdi song without any identifying information on a CD and assumed it was in the public domain.
The producer’s attorney, Christine Lepera, argued that Fahmy had no right to bring the case, because her client paid $100,000 in 2001 to the label EMI Music Arabia, which she said had rights over “Khosara, Khosara,” which had been used in an Egyptian movie.
“And Mr. Fahmy was well-aware” of the licensing payment, Lepera said, adding that Carter and Mosley “had the right to do what they did.”
Both Carter and Mosley are expected to testify in the trial, which is expected to take about two weeks.
In his opening statement, Carter’s attorney, Andrew Bart, told jurors that his Grammy Award-winning client was “misplaced” in the case, and should not be a party to the lawsuit.
“He wrote some lyrics,” Bart said, arguing that Carter had nothing to do with the sampled melody line.
“There is no evidence” that Carter was even aware of the origin of the sample, Bart said.
A musician is expected to be brought to court to play the melody for the panel at some point.
The trial resumes Wednesday.
—City News Service