Nicki Minaj wins Tracy Chapman copyright dispute

Rapper, Nicki Minaj

A judge has ruled that Nicki Minaj did not commit copyright infringement when she created a song based on Tracy Chapman’s Baby Can I Hold You.

This represents a significant win for Minaj and the music industry on a whole. This ruling now protects the industry practice of developing a new song based on existing material and then seeking a license from the original artiste before releasing it.

“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,” U.S. district judge Virginia A. Phillips wrote. “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”

Fair use

Adding that Minaj’s experimentation with Chapman’s song constitutes “fair use” and is not copyright infringement.

Minaj created the new song, Sorry, with recording artist Nas in 2017. At the time, she believed it was a remake of a song created by Shelly Thunder. But she was surprised to discover later that most of the lyrics and some of the melody came from Chapman’s Baby Can I Hold You, which was released on her debut album in 1988.

Whatever happened to Tracy Chapman?
Singer, songwriter, Tracy Chapman (Photo: Grunge)

According to Variety, Minaj’s representatives reached out to Chapman for permission to use the song, but Chapman repeatedly refused. According to her suit, she has a blanket policy against granting such permission. Sorry was then dropped from Minaj’s 2018 album, Queen.

But a copy of the unreleased track made its way to DJ Flex, a New York radio DJ who played it on the air. Chapman has accused Minaj of providing DJ Flex with the song. However, both Minaj and DJ Flex have denied this allegation. Portions of the song later aired on The Breakfast Club, and the track became widely available online.