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Minaj Pays Chapman $450,000 in Copyright Suit

After several months of litigation, both parties agreed to a judgement of copyright infringement against Nicki Minaj, and a settlement payment of $450,000 to Tracy Chapman.

Chapman sues Minaj after song leak

Shortly after releasing “Queen” in August 2018, Tracy Chapman sued Nicki Minaj over a song called “Sorry”, which borrowed heavily from Chapman’s song, “Baby Can I Hold You.” Minaj’s song collaboration with Nas was never officially released, but the song was allegedly leaked by Minaj to Funkmaster Flex and Flex played the song on the New York radio station Hot 97. Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You” was released in 1988.

The multi-platinum and four-time Grammy Award Winning artist attests that Minaj sampled the song without permission. Chapman says Minaj asked, but was denied. After creating “Sorry” without a license from Chapman, Minaj’s premise of stood on the doctrine of “fair use”.

What does doctrine of fair use mean?

So what is fair use? describes fair use as “a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.” The site also outlines certain types or activities of fair uses— “such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.”

In a copyright infringement claim, a judge will probe the purpose and intent of the party claiming ‘fair use’ but also the nature of the work, the amount or substantiality of the portion used in comparison to the copyrighted work as a whole, and whether or not use of the work could potentially hurt the current market. Many artists may claim “transformative use” which adds or reimagines the work of art.

Early on in the case, Judge Virginia A. Phillips of United States District Court in Los Angeles rejected Chapman’s claim of copyright infringement and sided with Minaj’s claim, stating “the song’s creation was commercial in nature because the hip-hop start knew clearance was necessary.”

The judge went on further to express, ”A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry. This is contrary to Copyright Law’s primary goal of promoting the arts for the public good.”

Chapman attests lawsuit was ‘last resort’.

The case however, was allowed to go to trial. Chapman made it very clear that, “As a songwriter and an independent publisher I have been known to be protective of my work,” Chapman explained. “I have never authorized the use of my songs for samples or requested a sample. This lawsuit was a last resort.”

The settlement closed with a payment of $450,000 to Chapman.


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