Nicki Minaj just took home another Win.
On Wednesday, a judge found that she did not commit copyright infringement when she created a song based on Tracy Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You.”
According to Variety, the ruling protects the industry practice of creating a new song based on existing material and then seeking a license from the original creator of the material to release.
U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled that the female rapper’s experimentation with Chapman’s song is “fair use” and is not copyright infringement.
“Artists usually experiment with works before seeking licenses from rights holders, and rights holders typically ask to see a proposed work before approving a license,” the judge wrote. “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”
In 2017, Minaj created the new song “Sorry” with recording artist Nas; she believed at the time it was a remake of a song made by Shelly Thunder but later learned that most of the lyrics and some of the melody actually came from Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You” from her debut album in 1988.
Chapman refused to give Minaj permission to use the song on her 2018 album “Queen.” In her suit, she cited that she has a blanket policy against granting such permission.
Somehow a copy of the unreleased song landed in the hands of Funk Flex, a New York DJ who then played it on the air. Chapman alleged that Minaj provided the track to Funk Flex; however, they both denied those claims, saying it did not come from her authorized representatives either.
Portions of the song later aired on the radio show “The Breakfast Club,” and the track became widely available online.
In Minaj’s defense, her attorneys filed a motion warning that Chapman’s suit “should send a shiver down the spine of those concerned with the entertainment industry” and argued that artists need to be allowed to create material that is based on existing work without worrying that they could be sued once they approach the rights-holder for a license to use.
“Such free-flowing creativity is important to all recording artists, but particularly in hip hop,” Minaj’s attorneys argued. “With that category of music, a recording artist typically goes into the studio and experiments with dozens of different ‘beats’ or snippets of melodies, before hitting upon a pleasing combination.”
As they continued, they argued that a finding in Chapman’s favor, “would impose a financial and administrative burden so early in the creative process that all but the most well-funded creators would be forced to abandon their visions at the outset.”
The judge agreed with Minaj’s attorneys’ argument that she was protected by the “fair use” doctrine.
But it remains unclear if Minaj did, in fact, infringe on Chapman’s sony by sending it to DJ Flex. Chapman’s lawyers asked the judge to find that the distribution constituted copyright infringement, but the judge ruled that the dispute would have to go to a jury.