In October 2015, Jay Z won the long-running copyright infringement case over the illegal use of Egyptian song samples in his song Big Pimpin’. Even if you don’t really pay attention to what goes on in the music industry, the chances are high that you have probably heard of the lawsuit whereby one of the most successful hip hop artists of all times, Jay Z, was accused of ripping off Khosara Khosara, which was composed by Baligh Hamdi back in 1957 and song by one of the most popular Egyptian singers of all time, Abd El Halim Hafez.
The lawsuit was filed in 2007 for the first time by Osama Ahmed Fahmy who is Hamdi’s nephew. The family sued the producer, the rapper and several other associated music companies. Back then, his lawsuit was focused on infringement and violation of moral rights. Fahmy and his lawyer also argued that none of the licensing agreements allow changes to the song. They claimed that Jay Z and Timbaland, defendants, should have contacted the family and ask for the permission, but they didn’t do so because the song contains vulgar and inappropriate lyrics that Egyptians do not appreciate. Timbaland claimed that he used the hook believing it to be public domain and paid $100,000 to EMI when he learned that the hook originated in the Egyptian tune. The court concluded that lyrics of the song had nothing to do with it and there would be no trial.
Fahmy refused to go down without a fight and he decided to dispute from a different angle. Fahmy and his lawyer contended that record company which licensed his uncle’s Khosara Khosara to Timbaland never, actually, had the right to license the song in the first place. Timbaland $100,000 deal with EMI Arabia was invalid. Fahmy claimed that EMI Arabia’s license to the song expired in 2007. The trial finally started in October when Jay Z took the stand and the judge along with jury decided that Fahmy doesn’t have enough evidence to support his claim. When Jay Z was asked to take the stand during the trial, Jay Z claimed that it was all a big misunderstanding on his part.
Fahmy’s attorney, Peter Ross asked Jay why he didn’t check out the song’s rights before he made the track. Jay Z replied with “That’s not what I do. I make music.” Jay-Z’s own attorney asked him to elaborate on that comment. “I make music, I’m a rapper, I’ve got a clothing line, I run a label, a media label called Roc Nation, with a sports agency, music publishing and management. Restaurants and nightclubs … I think that about covers it,” said Jay Z.
“I’m not so sure. You have a music streaming service [Tidal], don’t you?” inquired his attorney.
“Yeah, yeah. Forgot about that,” quipped Jay Z.
Jay & Timbaland made a ton of money off that track, why didn’t they just agree with Hamdi’s family on a nice small percentage outside of the courtroom? I highly doubt they really cares about the moral implications of the tune being used in a hip hop song with inappropriate lyrics. They just wanted a pay day like the $5.3 million awarded to Marvin Gaye’s children who sued Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke after determining that their 2013 hit, “Blurred Lines” was copied from Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”. Hamdi’s family has stated that they are not taking the judge’s ruling as filling and will be coming back again with another lawsuit to claim what is theirs. Good Luck!
In 2002, two years after the success of Big Pimpin, Timbaland used another Arabic music sample to create the late Aaliyah’s track, Don’t Know What To to Tell Ya. The track had samples from a very famous song called Batwanis Beek, from the Algerian singer – Warda. It seems that Timbaland definitely has a liking for arabic tunes. I like them too Timba, but keep them in the classics where they belong!