In a memorandum affirming the district court’s summary judgment dismissal of plaintiff’s copyright infringement claims for lack of standing, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that an assignment agreement did not actually grant the plaintiff ownership interest in a copyright license, but rather assigned a cause of action, which is prohibited by the Ninth Circuit law. Nafal v. Carter et al., Case No. 08-55540 (9th Cir., July 21, 2010) (non-precedential).
In 2005, plaintiff Ahab Joseph Nafal entered into an assignment agreement with the licensee of a song called, “Khosara, Khosara,” which was written by Egyptian composer Balight Hamdy in 1957, then recorded and used in an Egyptian film. Nafal filed suit in 2005 against Jay-Z over the alleged unauthorized sampling of the “Khosara, Khosara” song in the rap hit, “Big Pimpin,” which was the most successful single in Jay-Z’s Vol. 3 ... Life and Times of S. Carter album that sold more than 3 million records.
The defendants argued that the assignment agreement did not confer Nafal with an ownership interest in the “Khosara, Khosara” work, but rather granted Nafal the right to bring a suit. According to defendants, Nafal agreed to bring and partially finance the suit in return for a share of the recovery. The Ninth Circuit agreed, finding that the assignment documents did not actually grant Nafal an ownership interest in an exclusive copyright license. Rather, the documents were a disguised assignment of a cause of action. The assignment of a cause of action is prohibited by the Ninth Circuit’s 2005 ruling in Silvers v. Sony Pictures. Therefore, the court held that Nafal was not a co-owner of the exclusive license and thus did not have standing to sue.