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Tracy Chapman wins big in copyright lawsuit against Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj and Tracy Chapman have finally settled their legal dispute over Minaj’s 2018 track Sorry. 

After a two-year legal suit, Tracy Chapman has accepted a settlement of $450,000 from Nicki Minaj (Onika Maraj) after an alleged copyright infringement.

The infringement is based around Minaj’s song Sorry, which was set to be released on her 2018 album Queen. The track was removed from the final cut as it heavily sampled Chapman’s 1998 song Baby Can I Hold You without the artist’s permission.

Nicki Minaj
Photo: Getty Images

Although Minaj’s didn’t officially release the song, as per Chapman’s rejection, the track was leaked and aired on New York Hot 97 radio back in 2018. As the single was unreleased, Minaj and Chapman’s legal teams had to contest over whether the rapper should be held liable for copyright infringement.

In the official court brief, Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled in favour of the defendant (Minaj) as the song remained “unreleased” and was leaked without consent.

“No one approaches the original songwriter for a license to experiment… recording artists require this freedom to experiment, and the rights holders appreciate the protocol as well,” she ruled.

Phillips also mentioned that “creativity would be stifled, were artists required to seek and pay for a license before even experimenting with a work.”

Chapman argued against the briefing, alleging that Minaj was responsible for leaking the song despite DJ Funkmaster stating he received the release from a blogger.

Chapman’s legal team offered a plethora of evidence, including correspondence between Minaj and DJ Funkmaster Flex revealing the artist’s intent for “a song” to be premiered on the New York radio show the day before Sorry was leaked.

I bet Minaj is Sorry she did that.

The factual dispute and the validity of the damning evidence ultimately resulted in Minaj offering a $450,000 settlement on December 17, including all costs and attorney fees incurred since 2018. The offer was accepted by Chapman’s legal team on December 30th.

According to the New York Times, Minaj’s lawyer Peter W. Ross justified the settlement for one reason: “it would have cost us more to go to trial.” 

Tracy Chapman was pleased with the outcome, stating that it“affirms that artists’ rights are protected by law and should be respected by other artists.” She mentioned to the New York Times that the lawsuit was a last resort and a result of her protectiveness over her work.