Nicki Minaj has won the copyright infringement lawsuit filed by singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman due to an uncleared sample used in “Sorry,” feat. Nas. The song was never officially released because of the uncleared sample of “Baby Can I Hold You” from Chapman’s self-titled 1988 debut album.
The legal battle started in 2018 due to the song leaking after Funkmaster Flex played it during his Hot 97 radio show. There was a rumor that Funkmaster Flex allegedly got the song directly from Minaj, and part of Chapman’s case meant to hold Minaj responsible for the leak. No matter the origin, the leak still got out and blew up.
Chapman’s lawsuit asked for unpaid royalties and attempted to prevent Minaj from ever releasing or performing the track. Minaj’s defense claimed that since she never officially released the song, she shouldn’t be held responsible for it spreading on the internet. She also said that she hadn’t even realized that the main sample from “Sorry” was originally a Tracy Chapman track since she had taken it from a Shelly Thunder song (also called “Sorry”) that sampled “Baby Can I Hold You.”
The lawsuit was resolved on Wednesday after the US District Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled that the song’s use of the sample still falls under “fair use.” According to Variety, Phillips said in her decision, “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. A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”
Phillips’ ruling deemed Minaj’s fair use of the Chapman tune to be “experimenting with works.” If the case had gone in favor of Chapman instead, it would set the precedent that artists would technically be violating copyright law by making a demo version of a song to present to the sampled artist in order to clear a sample.
Minaj has released a song called “Yikes” early in the year and appeared on several features as well, including Meghan Trainor’s “Nice to Meet Ya,” Doja Cat’s “Say So”, 6ix9ine’s “TROLLZ”, A$AP Ferg’s “Move Ya Hips” also featuring MadeinTYO, Ty Dolla $ign’s “Expensive” and a collaboration between Mr Eazi, Major Lazer, K4mo and Minaj called “Oh My Gawd.”