During the eventful promotion of Nicki Minaj’s fourth studio album Queen in 2018, hip hop DJ Funkmaster Flex gave fans a sneak peek at an unreleased song called “Sorry.” The track, which featured Nas, was a hit, but not with everyone — Tracy Chapman was especially unenthused because the song sampled one of her works.
Shortly after learning the “Sorry” had been shared on Hot 97, Chapman sued Minaj for copyright infringement because the song borrowed many elements from her 1988 track “Baby Can I Hold You.” Her claim alleges that Minaj sampled her song without permission, but the “Chun-Li” rapper defended herself by claiming that the “fair use” doctrine gave her the right to borrow the copyrighted material. Minaj also insisted that she wasn’t the one who had provided Funkmaster Flex with the single that day; the DJ said that one of his blogger sources had sent “Sorry” his way.
Initially, presiding judge Virginia Phillips decided that Minaj had not committed a crime, explaining that the concept of fair use did in fact protect the hip hop icon from prosecution. Simply put, trying to police who could sample what song where and when would be at the detriment of musicians everywhere because the process would become a bureaucratic mess, ultimately hurting artists and fans alike.
"A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry," ruled the judge.
To officially smooth things over between the artists, Minaj's team is acting in good faith, offering to settle the case with a hefty $450,000 payout. The "Fast Car" singer has agreed to settle and accept the payment. Despite coming to an agreement, Chapman hopes that this legal battle will encourage other independent singer-songwriters and artists in the music industry for years to fight for their work to be protected by law.
"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 concluded upon coming to an agreement with Minaj. "This lawsuit was a last report — 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."