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Nicki Minaj hits back in Tracy Chapman sample lawsuit

By | Published on Thursday 28 February 2019

Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj has hit back at Tracy Chapman’s lawsuit – in which the latter accuses the former of sampling her song ‘Baby Can I Hold You’ without permission – by employing two of the classic defences in American copyright infringement cases: “you don’t own the rights in the song you say I ripped off” and “it’s all fair use anyway”.

Chapman went legal last October over a sample that appears in a track called ‘Sorry’, which was originally intended to feature on Minaj’s album ‘Queen’. The track was dropped from the LP, seemingly because of issues licensing the sample, but it’s alleged that Minaj’s people nevertheless leaked the record to a US radio DJ who then played it on air. Fans then grabbed the track from the broadcast and shared it online.

Minaj’s legal filing confirms that her people did indeed try, unsuccessfully, to license the sample. Something we already knew, because – ahead of the release of ‘Queen’ – Minaj tweeted about the licensing issues and asked fans whether she should push back the release of her album to allow the issues to be addressed, or just launch the record without ‘Sorry’. She subsequently did the latter.

Despite having sought a licence at the time, Minaj’s people are now claiming that the sample was in fact covered by the US copyright principle of fair use, meaning no licence was actually required. Also, this week’s legal filing argues, Chapman doesn’t control the copyright in ‘Baby Can I Hold You’, so doesn’t have the right to sue over the sample anyway.

That latter argument is based on the fact that the copyright in the Chapman song is registered as belonging to two music companies with which she previously had dealings. For her part Chapman claims the copyright reverted to her in 2016. But the Minaj side seemed to be saying that the required admin wasn’t done to allow Chapman to litigate.

If the fair use and registration technicality defences fail, Minaj also argues that any copyright infringement that may or may not have occurred was minimal, because ‘Sorry’ was never released and only had some airplay. The aim there will be keep down any damages if the other defences fail.

We now await a response from the Chapman side.