Nicki Minaj agrees to pay Tracy Chapman $450,000 to settle copyright lawsuit

January 12, 2021

Tracy Chapman has accepted a $450,000 settlement fee from rapper Nicki Minaj for sampling her song without authorisation, bringing an end to their lengthy copyright infringement battle.

Because Chapman accepted Minaj’s offer, outlined in documents made public by California federal court on Thursday, Jan. 7, the two platinum-selling recording artists will not have to face off at a trial that was scheduled for later this year.

However, Chapman, a longtime San Francisco resident, sued Minaj in October 2018 for using a large sample of her 1988 single “Baby Can I Hold You” on an unreleased track called “Sorry.”

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The reclusive Grammy-winning singer had refused requests to incorporate the lyrics and vocal melody in the song that was slated for Minaj’s fourth album, “Queen.”

“Sorry,” a collaboration with Nas, did not make the final cut for the album, but Chapman’s lawsuit alleged that the rapper handed the song off to New York radio DJ Funkmaster Flex, who premiered it on the station Hot 97 and posted it to his social media accounts.

“So there’s a record on #Queen that features 1o of the greatest rappers of all time,” she wrote. “Had no clue it sampled the legend #TracyChapman — do I keep my date & lose the record? Or do I lose the record & keep my date? Do we push #Queen back 1week? Ugh! I’m torn, y’all help. Tracy Chapman, can you please hit me. omg for the love of #Queen.”

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Minaj later published the answer via her verified Twitter handle: “Sis said no,” she said, adding a shrug emoji.

The rapper said her use of “Baby Can I Hold You” as the basis for “Sorry,” even without Chapman’s permission, fell under the doctrine of “fair use.” That argument was seemingly affirmed by Judge Virginia A. Phillips, of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, who wrote a summary judgment decision in September that stated that because the track was never officially released, prohibiting artists from experimenting in the studio “would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”

Chapman’s legal team shot back with the allegation that Minaj made the track public by leaking it to Funkmaster Flex, a move that, if proved in court, would lead to significant penalties.

The issue was settled with the $450,000 settlement, which the court papers show was offered by Minaj’s lawyers on Dec. 17 and accepted by Chapman’s representatives on Dec. 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 Friday, Jan 8, in a statement.

“I was asked in this situation numerous times for permission to use my song; in each instance, politely and in a timely manner, I unequivocally said no. Apparently, Ms. Minaj chose not to hear and used my composition despite my clear and express intentions.”

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