Nicki Minaj to pay Tracy Chapman $450K in copyright dispute

The rapper will have to shell out thousands to the 'Fast Car' singer for illegally sampling her music

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Nicki Minaj rarely says ‘sorry’ but she must be feeling like it now. Folkster Tracy Chapman alleged that Minaj used her composition “Baby Can I Hold You” to create her song “Sorry” even though it was never officially released.

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Per The Hollywood Reporter, new mother Minaj, born Onika Tanya Miraj, will have to pay Chapman $450K for sampling the song, one of the tracks she recorded for her Queen album in 2018. “Sorry,” a collaboration with Nas did not make the album, but Minaj allegedly leaked it via Hot 97 deejay Funkmaster Flex that year.

The song ultimately made it to the internet. Chapman, according to THR, is among the artists including Prince and others who are on an unofficial ‘do not sample’ list as they are unlikely to clear their music. In this case, Chapman’s people had been contacted by Minaj’s reps to try and legally clear the sample.

Chapman turned them down and the documentation of numerous requests is what likely helped her attorneys achieve the six-figure settlement.

Nicki Minaj Tracy Chapman copyright thegrio.com

Minaj argued that the song was subject to “fair use” which does allow for copyright material to be used under certain criteria, according to the New York Times. Judge Virginia A. Phillips, of the United States District Court in Los Angeles, agreed in her ruling that “uprooting” the ability of artists to experiment privately “would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”

However, Chapman was able to win based on the song leaking to various sites, including Hot 97, who provided a link via their Instagram page. Minaj and her lawyers may not have wanted to go to court because although she says she didn’t leak the track, there is documentation that she wanted the song included on the Queen album.

According to Lexology, a site that provides context to legal cases, Minaj tried to convince Chapman to clear the sample via social media.

“I’m torn, y’all help. Tracy Chapman, can you please hit me. omg for the love of #Queen.” she posted on Twitter in 2018. Minaj also surveyed her followers to see if she should delay the album to give her time to clear the sample with Chapman. When that didn’t help, Minaj appears to have enlisted Flex to play the record, according to his social media account. The day after Queen’s release, he posted the following on Instagram:

“Shhhhhhh!!!! TONIGHT 7PM!!! NICKY GA VE ME SOMETHING!!! @nickiminaj ft @nas !!! (NOT ON HER ALBUM!) GONNA STOP THE CITY TONIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!”’

Flex later said he got the song from “one of his bloggers” and that he attributed the leak to Minaj to “lure in fans.”

“This is just a perfect storm. It is a common procedure to experiment in the studio, develop the material and then get clearances for the things that go on the release,” says copyright and trademark attorney Kimra Major-Morris. “She’s associated with the infringement because she’s an author on the song and she made a derivative work that was then distributed without authorization.”

Summer Jam 2019
DJ Funkmaster Flex attends Summer Jam 2019 at MetLife Stadium on June 02, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Minaj and Chapman were scheduled to go to trial but this settlement avoids it.

Minaj’s lawyer Peter W. Ross, said that “We settled for one reason only. It would have cost us more to go to trial.”

Chapman says she is pleased by the decision and not just because of the financial gain.

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“As a songwriter and an independent publisher I have been known to be protective of my work,” Chapman said. “I have never authorized the use of my songs for samples or requested a sample. This lawsuit was a last resort.”

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