Tracy Chapman was awarded $450,000 dollars in a lawsuit filed against rapper Nicki Minaj. Chapman filed the suit after her song “Baby Can I Hold You” was sampled in Minaj’s song “Sorry” without permission. The Minaj team did ask for permission back in July of 2018, however Chapman declined within a matter of days. It was found that the song had already been recorded, and was subsequently leaked to New York City’s Hot Funkmaster. “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,” Chapman said in a statement written to Black Enterprise. “Apparently, Ms. Minaj chose not to hear and used my composition despite my clear and express intentions.”
Chapman has been known to be protective of her work as well as hesitant to let artists sample her writing, and said that 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.” She said that she is glad that this matter was resolved respectfully and that it reaffirms that those who create pieces of art are protected by the law.
The Minaj team had previously denied that the song “Sorry” was infringement upon Chapman’s song in 2019 in a court document. An attorney representing Minaj still denies that there is guilt on their part, telling Pitchfork: “We settled for one reason only. It would have cost us more to go to trial.” Additionally, Minaj had tweeted the fact that her sample clearance was denied by Chapman, which helped Chapman’s case. Pitchfork also published an article in 2018 saying that Chapman was probably going to win the lawsuit, although the song was not formally released at the time and was not a part of Minaj’s album Queen due to copyright laws. Even if “Sorry” is never made available for sale or profit, there is still a case for infringement based in which the defendant would need to pay “statutory damages,” which are damages calculated not by amount of monetary value gained, but defined by law instead. Henry Gradstein, who won a settlement against Spotify for songwriters, told Pitchfork: “The elements of copyright infringement are access and substantial similarity,” not just simply profit made and monetary damages caused. This lawsuit is an example of copyright law at work to protect artists and their work, and shows how it protects artists, even if they do not discover the infringement themselves, as in this case when the music clearance company DMG brought the allegation to Chapman’s team.