11 January 2021Copyright

Minaj to pay Chapman $450,000 in copyright spat

Nicki Minaj has agreed to pay Tracy Chapman $450,000 in a copyright dispute that began between the musicians in 2018, according to a notice filed at the US District Court for the Central District of California on Thursday, January 7.

The dispute arose after the release of Minaj’s 2018 album “Queen”. The album was due to include a song called “Sorry”, which Minaj had collaborated with hip-hop artist Nas on. “Sorry” was built around a sample of Chapman’s hit track, “Baby Can I Hold You”.

Chapman refused Minaj permission to use the sample, and “Queen” was released in August 2018 without “Sorry”.

However, a copy of the unreleased track was leaked to a New York DJ, Funkmaster Flex, who played it on the radio. On Twitter, Funkmaster Flex stated on August 11, 2018, that “Nicky gave me something” with the added comment of “not on her album”. The Tweet tagged Minaj and Nas.

Chapman sued Minaj for copyright infringement in October 2018, claiming that Minaj gave the song to Funkmaster Flex. The musician also said that just by creating the “Sorry” demo, Minaj had infringed her copyright.

Chapman alleged that the lyrics and vocal melody in Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You” made up “approximately half” of Minaj’s “Sorry”.

In response, Minaj claimed that in-studio experimentation with samples is fair use of a copyright-protected work. She also denied leaking the track to Funkmaster Flex, who has since said that he received the track from one of his bloggers.

In September 2020, US District Judge Virginia Phillips concluded that Minaj’s experimentation with Chapman’s song constituted “fair use”.

“Artists usually experiment with works before seeking licences from rights holders and rights holders typically ask to see a proposed work before approving a licence,” Phillips said. “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”

However, the dispute over the leaked version of the song remained and was due to be determined by jury trial in March 2021.

Now, it appears that Minaj and Chapman have come to an agreement whereby Minaj agrees to judgment being entered in favour of Chapman.

“I am glad to have this matter resolved and grateful for this legal outcome which affirms that artists’ rights are protected by law and should be respected by other artists. I was asked in this situation numerous times for permission to use my song; in each instance, politely and in a timely manner, I unequivocally said no. Apparently Ms Minaj chose not to hear and used my composition despite my clear and express intentions," said Chapman in a statement.

According to the notice filed last week, Minaj proposed that judgment be entered in favour of Chapman and that Minaj would pay her $450,000. This sum is inclusive of all costs and attorney fees.

The proposal was made on December 17 and, on December 30, Chapman’s lawyers signed documentation to confirm her acceptance of it.

Chapman added: "As a songwriter and an independent publisher, I have been known to be protective of my work.  I have never authorised the use of my songs for samples or requested a sample. This lawsuit was a last resort—pursued in an effort to defend myself and my work and to seek protection for the creative enterprise and expression of songwriters and independent publishers like myself."

The agreement means that the trial scheduled to proceed in March will no longer go ahead.

Chapman was represented by John Gatti, a partner at  Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. Gatti said he respected Tracy’s "principles" to protect artists’ rights.

He added: "I couldn’t be happier with the outcome and for the statement this makes on behalf of Tracy and indeed, all artists’ rights.”

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