Is ‘sorry’ good enough? A look at the legal battle between Tracy Chapman and Nicki Minaj

11th January 2021

World-famous rapper Nicki Minaj has settled a claim by singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, for $450,000 (£320,000).

Nicki Minaj had not even formally released ‘Sorry’ before she was hit with a lawsuit from Chapman. A leaked version of Minaj’s ‘Sorry’ ( went viral online via DJ Funkmaster Flex, and in 2018 Chapman sued Minaj. Chapman claimed Minaj leaked the track to DJ Flex, although both Minaj and DJ Flex have denied this claim.

‘Sorry’ samples a dancehall track, also entitled ‘Sorry’, by Jamaican artist Shelly Thunder. However, Minaj was not aware that that song was based on Chapman’s track ‘Baby, Can I Hold You’ ( Once she found out the connection, Minaj sought permission from Chapman to use the composition, but this was refused.

When the case went to court, the judge ruled that Minaj’s experimentation with Chapman’s song constituted “fair use” and that it would hamper creativity if artists were not allowed to experiment with different beats and snippets of songs.

However, despite this finding, the judge listed a trial to explore how ‘Sorry’ came to be leaked and distributed, and whether there had been any copyright infringement. This trial will now not take place, as Chapman agreed to Minaj’s settlement proposal.

The case raises a few interesting legal issues. The songs themselves could not be more different – have a listen! Allegedly Minaj did not mean to use any of Chapman’s work, nor did she intend for the track to be released. However, if the judge had found that the track had been leaked by Minaj, or someone in her team, this may have constituted copyright infringement and entitled Chapman to damages.

Businesses should always be careful not to use third parties’ work without permission, be that in advertising, product description, product design, or song-writing.

If you need advice about intellectual property, or if you believe your copyright has been infringed,, we’re here for you – get in touch

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