A copyright infringement trial over an unauthorized sample of a Tracy Chapman song in a Nicki Minaj track as been averted, as Minaj agreed to pay Chapman $450,000 to close the case in documents filed Thursday in United States District Court.
The dispute arose as a result of Minaj interpolating Chapman’s 1988 “Baby Can I Hold You” into her own song “Sorry” in 2018. After Chapman denied a request to approve the sample — as she reportedly does with all such requests — Minaj left the song off her album. But, in a wrinkle that made the case more complicated, “Sorry” leaked anyway, days after the album’s August 2018 release, with the leaker of record naming Minaj as his source.
DJ Funkmaster Flex said “Nicky (sic) gave me something” and put it out to the public. Chapman’s lawyers were prepared to argue that the fact that “Sorry” never got an official commercial release mattered little in the face of the widespread availability of the track, flying in the face of Chapman’s explicit disapproval. The lawsuit was filed a couple of months after the leak, in October 2018.
In a document drafted Dec. 17, 2020, less than three months before the case was set to go to trial, Minaj, also known in the legal filings as Onika Tanya Maraj, had her lawyers make the $450,000 offer, with all costs and attorney fees included in that amount. Chapman’s attorneys said she “accepts and provides notice that she has accepted” Minaj’s offer of judgment in a separate document dated Dec. 30.
The filings in the central district of the United States District Court in California wrap up the dispute, which had been set for trial March 2.
The last action in the case had come in September, when a U.S. District Court judge made a ruling in favor of Minaj that she was at least within her rights to have created the “Sorry” track in the studio with Nas before receiving clearance from Chapman. “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry,” Judge Virginia Phillips wrote then. But that would have had little bearing on an ultimate decision over whether Minaj was liable for the track going public after her team repeatedly tried and failed to receive clearance from Chapman.