LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge vacated an order that found an Egyptian man’s copyright infringement claims against Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin'” are barred under a legal doctrine used to dismiss unreasonably delayed lawsuits.
U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder issued the ruling on July 21, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 2014 ruling in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a copyright battle over authorship of the screenplay to the 1980s Martin Scorsese classic “Raging Bull.”
In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a 9th Circuit ruling that the plaintiffs could not make a damages claim against MGM under the doctrine of laches, which allows courts to dismiss claims where there is an unwarranted delay in filing.
Snyder had ruled in December 2011 that the statute of limitations barred plaintiff Osama Ahmed Fahmy from seeking damages for infringement before Aug. 31, 2004, or three years before Fahmy sued Jay-Z and several other defendants including EMI. But the judge gave the green light for a trial to settle the case.
Fahmy is the nephew of the late Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdy, who composed “Khosara, Khosara,” which was sampled on “Big Pimpin.'”
The copyright for “Khosara, Khosara” is split between Hamdy, his uncle and his three siblings. In the mid-2000s, Fahmy authorized a third party, Ahab Nafal Joseph, to file claims on behalf of the Hamdy relatives. But the claims were thrown out of court because Nafal was a nonexclusive licensee. Fahmy’s suit followed.
Fahmy also sought to recover the rapper’s profits from concert performances of the chart-topper, released in April 2000.
Last year Snyder issued another order , agreeing that Jay-Z’s defense of laches barred Fahmy’s claims for damages from March 30, 2011 to the present.
After the Supreme Court ruling in Petrella, Fahmy filed a motion for reconsideration.
Snyder granted that motion in the July 21 order and vacated the claims barred by laches.
“Petrella holds that laches is not a bar to the adjudication of claims for damages brought within the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations,” Snyder wrote in the 10-page order. “This holding represents a substantial change in the law governing laches in the Ninth Circuit, which, prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, was ‘the most hostile to copyright owners of all the circuits’ in its application of laches.'”
Snyder noted that while the Supreme Court did “not banish laches from copyright law altogether,” Jay-Z did not present “extraordinary circumstances” that would defeat Fahmy’s motion for reconsideration.
“Defendants respond that extraordinary circumstances exist in the present case because, as a result of plaintiff’s delay in bringing suit, defendants have suffered evidentiary prejudice from the death of a key witness, Magdi Amorousi, and have suffered expectations-based prejudice because they made substantial investments in the exploitation of ‘Big Pimpin” in reliance on the assumption that there were no ‘unasserted claims’ of copyright infringement,” Snyder wrote.
(As principal of Egyptian music recording company, Amorousi had allegedly transferred rights to “Khosara Khosara” to EMI).
But the judge said that though the defendants may have “suffered prejudice as a result of plaintiff’s delay, this prejudice does not rise to the level of the ‘extraordinary circumstances.'”
“Accordingly, the court concludes that it is not appropriate to curtail plaintiff’s entitlement to equitable relief at this stage,” Snyder wrote.
The judge rejected Jay-Z’s argument to divide the trial into one part for liability and damages, and another for equitable remedies.
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