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Nicki Minaj, Tracy Chapman
Nicki Minaj, Tracy ChapmanPhotography Jeff Bark, styling Robbie Spencer / Wikimedia Commons

Nicki Minaj pays Tracy Chapman $450,000 for copyright suit over leaked song

The unreleased ‘Sorry’, which sampled Chapman’s 1988 song ‘Baby Can I Hold You’, was played on the radio following a leak in 2018

Nicki Minaj has agreed to pay $450,000 to Tracy Chapman, following a years-long copyright dispute over a sample in the former’s leaked song, “Sorry”. The legal battle originated in 2018, when Chapman sued her for sampling her 1988 song “Baby Can I Hold You” on the track. The copyright trial is no longer set to take place, following the payment and the agreement of both parties to a judgment of copyright infringement against Minaj, according to the New York Times. However, the case does has some broader implications. 

Recorded as a collaboration with Nas in 2017, “Sorry” was never officially released, due to the fact that Chapman – who doesn’t allow other artists to sample her work – rejected multiple requests to use the sample. However, it did make its way onto the New York radio station Hot 97, where it was played by DJ Funkmaster Flex, and subsequently bounced around on the internet. 

When Chapman accused Minaj of using the “Baby Can I Hold You” sample without her consent, legal experts and music companies were faced with the problem of deciding whether artists are liable for copyright infringement in relation to unfinished works. In September, a Los Angeles judge, Virginia A. Phillips, even decided that artists should be able to experiment privately with other musicians’ music, adding that ruling against the practice would: “limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.” 

“Can you imagine what the world would look like if every artist who goes into the studio has to get a license merely to experiment with someone’s music?” added Pete Ross, one of Minaj’s attorneys. “The world would be a poorer place.” However, the judge allowed the case to go to trial over allegations that Minaj had leaked it herself (which she denied). Court papers show that Minaj’s legal team made their offer of $450,000 late last year, December 17, and that Chapman’s team accepted on December 30.

“I am glad to have this matter resolved and grateful for this legal outcome which affirms that artists’ rights are protected by law and should be respected by other artists,” Chapman said in a statement on Friday. “As a songwriter and an independent publisher, I have been known to be protective of my work. I have never authorized the use of my songs for samples or requested a sample.” 

“This lawsuit was a last resort – pursued in an effort to defend myself and my work and to seek protection for the creative enterprise and expression of songwriters and independent publishers like myself.”

On Minaj’s side of things, Pete Ross says: “We settled for one reason only. It would have cost us more to go to trial.”