Nicki Minaj recently scored a victory in her copyright battle with Tracy Chapman. A judge, on Wednesday, ruled that the rapper did not violate copyright infringement when she created a song based on Tracy Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You,” Variety understands.
According to U.S. district judge Virginia A. Phillips, Minaj’s experimentation with Chapman’s song constitutes “fair use” and is not considered infringement.
“Artists usually experiment with works before seeking licenses from rights holders and rights holders typically ask to see a proposed work before approving a license,” Phillips said. “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”
Minaj, who recorded “Sorry” featuring Nas for her 2018 album Queen, at first thought it was a remake of a Shelly Thunder song before discovering that half of the lyrics and vocal melody came from Chapman’s 1988 song “Baby Can I Hold You.”
Despite Nicki’s attempt to gain clearance from Chapman to release the song, she turned her down so “Sorry” was dropped from Queen. According to Chapman, she has a blanket policy against granting such permission.
A day after the release of Queen of August 10, 2018, the unreleased “Sorry” was played on the radio by Hot 97’s Funkmaster Flex before it eventually made its way online. Minaj and Flex denied that the song had got to the radio through Minaj or her camp after Chapman accused Minaj of providing Flex with the song.
Minaj’s legal team argued that artists need to be free to create something based on existing material without worrying about legal repercussions as far as they attempted to sought clearance from the copyright holder.
“Such free-flowing creativity is important to all recording artists, but particularly in hip-hop,” Minaj’s attorneys said. “With that category of music, a recording artist typically goes into the studio and experiments with dozens of different ‘beats’ or snippets of melodies, before hitting upon a pleasing combination.”
However, the case is not completely settled as there is still a dispute as to whether the “Say So” rapper infringed by sending “Sorry” to Flex. Tracy Chapman’s lawyers asked the judge to find that the distribution included copyright infringement as a matter of law. As a result, the judge ruled that the dispute would have to go before a jury.