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Fahmy v. Jay Z

District court enters final judgment dismissing plaintiff’s copyright infringement suit against Jay Z with prejudice, finding that its previous ruling that plaintiff’s claimed “moral rights” were not cognizable under American copyright law, and thus plaintiff had no standing to sue under Copyright Act, constitutes decision on merits.

Osama Ahmed Fahmy, heir of Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi, sued hip-hop star Jay Z, composer Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley and others in 2007, alleging that the hit song “Big Pimpin’” infringed on his copyright to a song co-written by Hamdi called “Khosara, Khosara.” On Oct. 21, 2015, the district court granted the defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law, finding that Fahmy lacked standing to bring the copyright infringement action because he had conveyed his rights to the song to Mohsen Mohammed Jaber in a 2002 agreement, and while Fahmy may have retained “moral rights” in “Khosara, Khosara” as a matter of Egyptian law, those rights were not cognizable as a matter of American law. (Read our summary of the decision here.)

Fahmy then moved for entry of a final judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58. The defendants opposed the motion, arguing that the dismissal should be with prejudice. The dispute between the parties involved what form the final judgment should take and centered on whether the district court’s October order had determined that plaintiff lacked standing as a matter of constitutional standing — that he failed to meet Article III’s requirement of an injury in fact — or statutory standing — that Fahmy had not demonstrated that he was the owner of a valid interest in copyright, the statutory requirement to bring an action pursuant to the Copyright Act.

Fahmy argued that the court’s determination that he lacked standing under the Copyright Act also deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction under Article III such that it could not rule on the merits of the case. Asserting that he had not alleged any claims for actual damages in his suit, he argued that the court’s finding that he had no cognizable claim for statutory damages under the Copyright Act eliminated the “injury in fact” requirement for Article III jurisdiction. 

The district court was not swayed by Fahmy’s argument. Noting the existence of case law supporting both sides of the issue, the court ultimately determined that it need not decide whether a plaintiff may have Article III standing in the absence of an allegation that he had suffered actual damages, because Fahmy had, in fact, alleged that he suffered actual damages from the inception of the suit and had not waived or abandoned that claim during the proceedings. The district court pointed out that Fahmy had “claimed actual damages since the inception of [the] case,” including in the Final Pretrial Conference Order, in which Fahmy stated unequivocally that he was seeking actual damages. According to the district court, “the fact that plaintiff failed to substantiate his alleged claim for actual damages indicates, not that plaintiff lacked standing, but that plaintiff did not prevail on the merits of his claim.”

Consequently, the district court found that the 2015 ruling was decided on the merits and that Fahmy’s claims should be dismissed with prejudice. Further, the district court determined that the defendants should be declared the prevailing parties in the action. Although it had discretion to award attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party, the district court declined, in large part because the case turned on challenging questions of Egyptian law and gave no indication that Fahmy’s claim was frivolous or objectively unreasonable.