Tracy Chapman Awarded $450,000 in Nicki Minaj Copyright Dispute


For months, the entertainment industry’s legal calendar had an interesting point on the horizon: a copyright lawsuit against Tracy Chapman, the revered and withdrawn singer-songwriter, against the brand rapper Nicki Minaj.

But this process is not meant to be. Late last month, the parties agreed a copyright infringement verdict against Minaj and paid Chapman $ 450,000. This emerges from documents released Thursday in federal court in California, where the case was ruled.

Chapman sued Minaj in late 2018 for copyright infringement over a song called “Sorry,” borrowed heavily from Chapman’s 1988 “Baby Can I Hold You”. The aspect of the case that caught the attention of legal scholars and entertainment litigation attorneys was The Song of Minaj, which she recorded with rapper Nas, was never officially released, although it was by Funkmaster Flex, a celebrity DJ on the New York radio station Hot 97 that had been played on the radio.

Chapman accused Minaj of using “baby can I hold you” without permission, which she said Minaj asked for but was refused. Still, Minaj argued that her creation of Sorry, even without a license from Chapman, was protected by the doctrine of “fair use” – an exception to copyright law that allows authors to borrow copyrighted material under certain conditions.

Their dispute raised sensitive questions for the musicians and the companies behind them: Can artists be held liable for copyright infringement for works in progress? Do artists even need permission to experiment in the studio?

In September, Justice Virginia A. Phillips of the US District Court in Los Angeles sided with Minaj on fair use. In a summary judgment, Judge Phillips wrote that “uprooting” the common practice of letting artists experiment privately would “limit creativity and stifle innovation in the music industry.”

However, the judge allowed the case to go to trial over how the song got to Funkmaster Flex. Chapman’s side claimed Minaj leaked it and pointed to significant correspondence between the two. Minaj said she didn’t air the track, and Funkmaster Flex said he received it “from one of his bloggers,” according to the judge’s decision.

If Minaj had leaked the song herself or approved its publication through intermediaries, she might have been responsible for substantial fines. Court records show that Minaj’s attorneys made their $ 450,000 offer on Dec. 17, “including all costs incurred and legal fees,” and that Chapman’s team accepted it on Dec. 30.

In a statement on Friday, Chapman said she was satisfied with the result, “which confirms that artists’ rights are protected by law and should be respected by other artists”.

“As a songwriter and independent publisher, I was known for protecting my work,” added Chapman. “I never authorized the use of my songs for samples or requested a sample. This lawsuit was a last resort. “

When asked to comment on the closure of the case, Minaj’s attorney Peter W. Ross said simply, “We only settled for one reason. It would have cost us more to go to court. “