TSR Updatez: Nicki Minaj celebrated a victory in court today after a judge found that she did not commit copyright infringement with her 2017 song “Sorry,” which is based on Tracy Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You.”
The ruling is significant for the music industry as it protects the practice of developing a new song based on existing material, and then seeking a license from the original artist prior to release.
U.S. district judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled that Nicki’s experimentation with Tracy Chapman’s song constitutes “fair use” and is not copyright infringement, Variety reports.
“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,” the judge wrote. “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”
Nicki Minaj created the new song, “Sorry,” with Nas in 2017. At the time, Nicki believed it was a remake of a song created by Shelly Thunder but was surprised to discover later that most of the lyrics and some of the melody came from Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You,” which was released on her debut album in 1988.
Nicki’s representatives tried to do the right thing by reaching out to Chapman for permission to use the song, but Chapman repeatedly refused. According to Chapman’s lawsuit against Nicki, she has a blanket policy against granting such permission.
Because Nicki couldn’t secure Chapman’s permission, “Sorry” was then dropped from her 2018 album, “Queen.”
However, if y’all remember, DJ Flex got a copy of the unreleased track and played it on his show. Chapman has accused Nicki of providing DJ Flex with the song, but they both denied that it came from Nicki or her authorized representatives.
Portions of the song later aired on “The Breakfast Club,” and then the track became widely available online.
Nicki’s attorneys argued that artists need to be free to create something that is based on existing material without worrying that they could be sued for such experimentation once they approach the rights-holder for a license.
“Such free-flowing creativity is important to all recording artists, but particularly in hip hop,” Nicki Minaj’s attorneys argued. “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.”
Nicki’s attorneys argued that if the judge did find in favor of Tracy Chapman, it “would impose a financial and administrative burden so early in the creative process that all but the most well-funded creators would be forced to abandon their visions at the outset.”
The judge agreed, finding that on balance Nicki was protected by the “fair use” doctrine.
A dispute still remains about whether Nicki infringed on Tracy Chapman’s song with DJ Flex being sent “Sorry” but a judge ruled that the dispute would have to go to a jury.
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