Tracy Chapman Wins $450K In Copyright Suit Against Nicki Minaj
Avoiding trial, Minaj makes an offer for illicitly using ‘Baby Can I Hold You,’ and Chapman accepts it.
The cost of taking another songwriter’s work without permission and illicitly leaking a remade version is $450,000. That’s what Nicki Minaj will be paying Tracy Chapman to satisfy her copyright infringement claims over “Sorry,” a derivative of “Baby Can I Hold You.”
On Thursday, documents became public in California federal court reflecting the fact that Chapman had accepted Minaj’s offer of judgment.
As a result, the two will not proceed to a trial later this year. By accepting Minaj’s offer, Chapman not only scores a win in the case and $450,000, the esteemed singer also avoids being responsible for costs had a jury eventually decided her claims weren’t worth that amount.
Chapman filed the case back in Oct. 2018. The suit came a couple months after Minaj had released her album, Queen. While “Sorry,” a collaboration with Nas, wasn’t on the album, Minaj allegedly leaked the song to Funkmaster Flex, a popular radio DJ, and the song then traveled on the internet.
According to court papers in the case, Minaj and her reps sought a license to Chapman’s composition. One of the clearance specialists put on the task is said to have known that Chapman was on the “do not sample list”— an unwritten list of artists that were well-known for not allowing samples of their works. Minaj’s team made efforts anyway, but Chapman rejected a request. Minaj persisted, but the song only got out through leak.
On summary judgment, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips came to the interesting conclusion that Minaj had a fair use right to use the song in the studio to enable musical experimentation — “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry” — while setting up a trial to explore the facts and responsibility for the leak and ultimate distribution of the song. Minaj may have had some hopes of ultimate prevailing, though there was still significant evidence against her.
In any event, both sides now agree that $450,000 is a reasonable amount for a copyright judgment on this controversy.