LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Attorneys for Jay Z said in court on Tuesday that the rapper had properly acquired the rights to an Egyptian musician’s melody to use for his hit 1999 song “Big Pimpin’,” as a trial in a longstanding copyright lawsuit got underway.
Jay Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, and hip hop producer Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley are among the defendants named in a 2007 complaint by the nephew of late Egyptian songwriter Baligh Hamdy, who alleged that the rapper had used his uncle’s composition without permission.
Jay Z, wearing a navy suit and tie, sat between his lawyers at the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles as he silently observed the afternoon’s proceedings. He told Reuters he had no comment on the case.
He is scheduled to testify on Wednesday.
Jay Z’s lawyer Andrew Bart argued Tuesday that the explicit lyrics of “Big Pimpin’” should not be discussed in relation to the lawsuit, as a depiction of the words as “vulgar” and “disgusting” could prejudice the jury against Jay Z.
U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder ruled in his favor, saying examining Jay Z’s lyrics would be irrelevant in this case.
Attorney Peter Ross, representing Hamdy’s nephew Osama Ahmed Fahmy, told the eight-member jury that Jay Z and his producers had purposefully avoided asking permission to use Hamdy’s track because they allegedly knew it wouldn’t be granted given the risqué lyrics.
“You have to go to the composer himself, or his heirs, play the work, and get his approval,” Ross said. “That, he never did.”
The lawsuit follows another high-profile musical copyright case. In March, the heirs of late soul singer Marvin Gaye successfully sued artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for $7.4 million for plagiarizing Gaye in their hit “Blurred Lines.”
Attorney Christine Lepera, representing Timbaland and other defendants, told the jury that Fahmy’s suit is an “effort to get an undeserved income.”
Released in 1999, “Big Pimpin’” was a breakout hit for Jay Z. Forbes estimated his wealth at $520 million in 2014.
Lepera said Timbaland used Hamdy’s 1957 Egyptian tune “Khosara, Khosara” as a chorus loop for “Big Pimpin’” without realizing it was owned by EMI Music Arabia. The producers later paid $100,000 to EMI Music Arabia to acquire the license.
But Fahmy has argued in court documents that the payment is inconsequential, and that only Hamdy’s heirs have the right to approve a derivative work of the late musician’s composition.
Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Richard Pullin