A lawsuit by US rapper Jay-Z over a children’s book paraphrasing the Grammy-winner’s lyrics has been labelled “embarrassing” by lawyers for the Melbourne mum he is suing.
Jessica Chiha and her business The Little Homie are named in a Federal Court lawsuit by the billionaire, legally named Shawn Carter, who claims his trademarks have been infringed.
Ms Chiha started out with the picture book AB to Jay-Z – which refers to well-known rappers to teach the alphabet – but has expanded to include a colouring book and clothing since her 2017 launch.
The book includes the line “ZZ is for Jay-Z and he has 99 problems, but his ABCs ain’t one”, while the back cover includes the quote “If you’re having alphabet problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but my ABCs ain’t one”.
Jay-Z’s 2004 song 99 Problems famously opened with “If you’re having girl problems, I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.”
In a defence filed in the Federal Court, Ms Chiha’s lawyers said the suit filed by Mr Carter was “embarrassing in its present form”.
It challenges the performer’s claim of co-ownership of the original music, literary work in the lyrics and in the hook of the song.
“The title and parts of the lyrics of Mr Carter’s 99 Problems song were copied from another song titled 99 Problems which was recorded and released in 1993,” the defence says.
That song by Tracey Lauren Marrow and Mark D. Ross – better known as rappers Ice-T and Brother Marquis – included the lyrics “So if you havin’ girl problems, I feel bad for you son, Got 99 problems and a bitch ain’t one – hit me”.
Documents filed last month by the rapper’s Australian lawyers noted Mr Carter asked Ms Chiha in March and July this year to stop selling the book.
“Mr Carter has suffered, and will continue to suffer, loss and damage,” they said.
The lawyers said the retailer and director deliberately and knowingly attempted to trade off the reputation of the rapper, who is married to singer Beyonce.
It’s believed the book came to Jay-Z’s attention after controversy broke over accusations of cultural appropriation and racism in 2017, when a customer asked if the company was black-owned.