Queens native Nicki Minaj takes home a music win on Wednesday (September 16, 2020) with a ruling from U.S. district judge Virginia A. Phillips who concluded she didn’t commit copyright infringement when she created a song based on Tracy Chapman’s 1988 single “Baby Can I Hold You.”
The judge ruled that Minaj’s use of elements from Chapman’s song to make the song “Sorry,” which features Nas (real name Nasir Bin Olufalls), within the definition of fair use and thus doesn’t reflect copyright infringement. The key to the ruling was the fact the song was never officially released or monetized.
Minaj (real name Onika Maraj), composed the song “Sorry” for inclusion on her fourth studio album, Queen, released in October 2018. However, Chapman refused to provide permission, and it was dropped from the track list.
It’s common place for music creatives to pull beats, lyrics and flows from previously published songs before seeking licenses from the rights holders, who typically will ask to hear the new effort before approving licensed usage. According to the judge, “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.
Minaj ran into trouble with her version of the song because New York-based DJ Funkmaster Flex (real name Aston Taylor) played the song on the air. Chapman’s lawyers accused Minaj of providing Flex with the song. Both Minaj and Flex have denied the accusation.
While Minaj prevailed today, the matter is not yet entirely resolved. Chapman’s lawyer zeroed in on the fact the single was sent to Flex, a move he argued constitutes copyright infringement. However, rather than rule, the judge said the dispute would have to go to a jury.
In a statement following the decision, Chapman’s lawyer stated, “For Ms. Chapman, this case has always been and will always be about an artist’s right to control her creations, their use and context. Ms. Chapman will continue to seek the protections provided by the copyright laws to ensure that the works of creators and copyright holders are not commercially exploited without consent.”