Tracy Chapman wins $450k from Nicki Minaj in copyright suit over leaked song

Christian Holub
·2 min read

Riccardo S. Savi/WireImage; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Nicki Minaj really wanted to sample Tracy Chapman on her last album. When making 2018's Queen, Minaj reached out to Chapman seeking approval to sample the singer's "Baby Can I Hold You." Chapman refused, and Queen was released without "Sorry," the track containing the sample. But the track was leaked anyway, and now as a result Minaj has agreed to pay Chapman $450,000, according to reports by The Hollywood Reporter and NPR.

Chapman filed a copyright lawsuit in October 2018, just a few months after the release of Queen. Though the album did not contain "Sorry," the track was unofficially leaked to popular New York radio DJ Funkmaster Flex (allegedly by Minaj herself) and Chapman sued.

Minaj first made the argument that a ruling for Chapman in this case would infringe on artists' right to experiment in the studio. This argument was upheld by U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips in summary judgement, who agreed that creating the song was fair use of copyright but then set up a trail to explore who was culpable for leaking the song to the public after the studio experimentation. Minaj began to argue that the case was a mystery as to who leaked the audio, suggesting it may have been the rapper Nas (who was featured on the song) instead of her. But ultimately, Minaj offered Chapman a $450,000 judgment, and Chapman has accepted, ensuring the case won't go to trial.

In a statement, Chapman claimed victory on behalf of "artists' rights."

"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," Chapman said. "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."

Her statement continued, "As a songwriter and an independent publisher, I have been known to be protective of my work. I have never authorized 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."

Minaj's representatives did not respond to EW's request for comment.

This story has been updated with Chapman's statement.

Related content: