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  • Writer's pictureDenny Esford

Copyright Infringement in the Music Industry – A New Approach Against Jay Z

Another day, another copyright infringement issue in the music industry. Ever since Robin Thicke was found to have infringed Marvin Gaye’s music, copyright disputes have been in the forefront of the media. Now, Jay Z joins this ever growing list prominent artists and producers accused of infringement, a list which also includes Pharrell, Sam Smith, and Jay’s wife, Beyonce. The Jay Z case began Tuesday October 12, 2015 when the heirs of an Egyptian composer accused Jay Z of infringing upon music from a 1950s love song, “Khosara Khosara” to create the Jay Z song “Big Pimpin’.”

Unlike other recent cases against popular artists and producers, this case isn’t simply another case of two songs sounding similar. At issue here is the type of rights being violated. The heirs are claiming a “moral rights” violation. It is undisputed that Jay Z secured the rights to use the music in his song. The issue lies in the lyrics he wrote. The heirs take offense to Jay Z’s vulgar lyrics that “celebrate a promiscuous lifestyle.”

The legal tension at play in this case is that United States copyright law, or U.S. law in general for that matter, does not protect so-called “moral rights” as other countries do, including Egypt. Essentially, moral rights protect the artist from his/her work being distorted or the meaning changed in a way considered offensive by the artist.

The Egyptian heirs are claiming a moral rights violation that in Egypt would surely have merit. In their opinion, Jay Z should have gone to them for permission to use the music with these promiscuous lyrics. However, because the case was filed in the U.S., Jay Z may have done all he needed to by simply securing the rights to use the music. The question will be whether a U.S. court will apply Egyptian law in order to enforce an Egyptian right under its laws in the United States. This can and does happen in other areas of law where U.S. courts apply foreign law to provide enforcement, so long as such enforcement not contrary to United States public policy.

So the trial continues this week, where an expert on Egyptian music is expected to testify about the composer’s life. This may give at least some indication as to whether this U.S. court is willing to consider upholding the moral rights of a foreign copyright when dealing with such a big name in music on an international scale.

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