Nicki Minaj Pays Tracy Chapman $450,000 in Copyright Dispute
For months, the entertainment industry’s legal calendar had an intriguing item on the horizon: a copyright trial pitting Tracy Chapman, the revered and reclusive singer-songwriter, against the firebrand rapper Nicki Minaj.
But that trial is not to be. Late last month, the parties agreed to a judgment of copyright infringement against Minaj, and a payment of $450,000 to Chapman, according to documents made public on Thursday in federal court in California, where the case was being adjudicated.
Chapman sued Minaj for copyright infringement in late 2018 over a song called “Sorry,” which borrowed heavily from Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You,” released in 1988. The aspect of the case that drew the attention of legal scholars and entertainment litigators was that Minaj’s song, which she recorded with the rapper Nas, was never officially released, although it had been played on the radio by Funkmaster Flex, a celebrity D.J. on the New York radio station Hot 97.
Chapman accused Minaj of using “Baby Can I Hold You” without permission, which she said Minaj had asked for but was denied. Yet Minaj argued that her creation of “Sorry,” even without a license from Chapman, was protected by the doctrine of “fair use” — an exception to copyright law that lets creators borrow copyrighted material under certain conditions.