Nicki Minaj has been handed a win in her legal battle with Tracy Chapman.
On Wednesday, a judge ruled that the rapper did not violate copyright infringement when she created a song based on Tracy Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You,” according to Variety. Minaj’s experimentation with Chapman’s song constitutes “fair use” and is not copyright infringement, ruled U.S. district judge Virginia A. Phillips.
“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,” said Phillips. “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”
Minaj recorded “Sorry,” which featured Nas, for her 2018 album Queen. At first, she thought it was a remake of a Shelly Thunder song before discovering that half of the lyrics and vocal melody came from Chapman’s 1988 song “Baby Can I Hold You.”
Minaj tried to gain clearance from Chapman to release “Sorry,” but she refused so the song was dropped from Queen. Chapman says she has a blanket policy against granting such permission.
However, a day after Queen‘s release on Aug. 10, 2018, the unreleased track was played on the radio by Hot 97’s Funkmaster Flex before eventually making its way online. Chapman has accused Minaj of providing Flex with the song, but they both have denied that it came from Minaj or her camp.
Minaj’s lawyers argued that artists need to be free to create something that is based on existing material without worrying of legal repercussion once they attempt to gain clearance from the copyright holder.
“Such free-flowing creativity is important to all recording artists, but particularly in hip-hop,” said Minaj’s attorneys. “With that category of music, a recording artist typically goes into the studio and experiments with dozens of different ‘beats’ or snippets of melodies, before hitting upon a pleasing combination.”
The case is not completely resolved. There is still a dispute as to whether Minaj infringed by sending “Sorry” to Flex. Chapman’s lawyers asked the judge to find that the distribution constituted copyright infringement as a matter of law. The judge ruled that the dispute would have to go before a jury.