Tracy Chapman receives $ 450,000 in Nicki Minaj copyright dispute


For months, the entertainment industry’s legal calendar had an intriguing element on the horizon: a copyright lawsuit between Tracy Chapman, the revered and reclusive singer-songwriter, and the brand’s rapper. Nicki Minaj.

But this trial does not have to be. At the end of last month, the parties agreed to a copyright infringement judgment against Minaj and a $ 450,000 payment to Chapman, according to documents released Thursday in federal court in California, where the The case was judged.

Chapman sued Minaj for copyright infringement in late 2018 for a song called “Sorry,” which borrowed heavily from Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You,” released in 1988. The aspect of the case that caught the attention of legal scholars and entertainment lawyers was that Minaj’s song, which she recorded with rapper Nas, was never officially released, although it was played on the radio by Funkmaster Flex , a famous DJ from New York radio station Hot 97.

Chapman accused Minaj of using “Baby Can I Hold You” without permission, which she said Minaj requested but was refused. Still, Minaj argued that his creation of “Sorry,” even unlicensed by Chapman, was protected by the doctrine of “fair use” – an exception to copyright law that allows creators to borrow copyrighted material under certain conditions.

Their dispute raised thorny questions for the musicians and the companies behind them: Can artists be held liable for copyright infringement for works in progress? Do artists need permission even to experiment in the studio?

In September, Judge Virginia A. Phillips of the United States District Court in Los Angeles sided with Minaj on the issue of fair use. In a summary judgment decision, Judge Phillips wrote that “uprooting” the common practice of letting artists experiment in private “would limit creativity and stifle innovation in the music industry.”

But the judge allowed the case to be heard on how the song got to Funkmaster Flex. Chapman’s side alleged that Minaj leaked it, and pointed to a substantial correspondence between the two. Minaj said she did not send the track, and Funkmaster Flex said it got it from “one of its bloggers”, according to the judge’s ruling.

Had Minaj herself disclosed the song or authorized its release through intermediaries, she could have faced significant penalties. Court documents show Minaj’s attorneys made their offer of $ 450,000, “including all legal costs and fees incurred to date,” on December 17, and Chapman’s team accepted it. December 30.

In a statement Friday, Chapman said she was satisfied with the outcome, “which says artists’ rights are protected by law and must be respected by other artists.”

“As a freelance songwriter and publisher, I’m known to protect my work,” Chapman added. “I never authorized the use of my songs for samples or requested a sample. This trial was a last resort.

When asked about the conclusion of the case, a lawyer for Minaj, Peter W. Ross, simply replied, “We settled for one reason. The trial would have cost us more. “

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