Nicki Minaj has formally denied committing copyright infringement in response to Tracy Chapman’s October 2018 lawsuit. Chapman claims that Minaj’s unreleased Nas collaboration “Sorry,” which interpolates the songwriter’s 1988 cut “Baby Can I Hold You,” uses her material without permission.
As The Blast and Pitchfork report, Minaj filed a formal response to the suit in California federal court on February 22nd. In the documents, she asserts that the interpolation is protected by the fair use doctrine, adding that Chapman “has not properly registered her claim to the copyright in the Composition [‘Baby Can I Hold You’].” Therefore, she claims, Chapman does not own the “copyright in issue and therefore lacks standing to bring the claims alleged in the Complaint” and is not entitled to damages.
New York DJ Funkmaster Flex premiered “Sorry” on radio station Hot 97 in August 2018. Though the song was never officially released, audio from the broadcast still exists online. Chapman is seeking damages and aiming to stop Minaj from releasing the song.
In the build-up to the release of Minaj’s fourth LP Queen, the rapper made a public plea on Twitter for Chapman to clear the sample. “So there’s a record on #Queen that features 1of the greatest rappers of all time,” she wrote in a series of since-deleted tweets, referencing Nas. “Had no clue it sampled the legend #TracyChapman—do I keep my date & lose the record? Or do I lose the record & keep my date? Do we push #Queen back 1week? Ugh! I’m torn, y’all help. Tracy Chapman, can you please hit me. omg for the love of #Queen.”
In another since-scrubbed tweet, Minaj appeared to confirm Chapman’s response, writing, “Sis said no,” with a shrug emoji. The song was left off the track list.
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Chapman’s suit claims that Minaj’s team made “multiple requests” to license “Baby Can I Hold You” and were denied. “Tracy Chapman very much protect her rights and she has a right to deny a license when requested,” Chapman’s longtime lawyer Lee Phillips told Rolling Stone. “There’s no question that this is infringement. If you ask what Nicki Minaj’s defense going to be, we have no idea.”
Minaj, in her response, acknowledged that “her representatives made several requests for permission to release a musical interpolation that used music and lyrics from [‘Baby Can I Hold You].'”