Nicki Minaj has won her copyright infringement lawsuit. On Wednesday (Sept. 16), a judge ruled that the Queens-bred rapper’s single “Sorry” did not commit infringement on the 1988 song “Baby Can I Hold You” by Tracy Chapman, who sued Nicki two yeas ago.
“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,” Judge Virginia A. Phillips said in her ruling. “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”
Nicki recorded “Sorry” in 2017. The song featured Nas and was supposed to land on her fourth studio album, Queen. “Sorry” was built around Shelly Thunder’s single of the same name, which was actually a rendition of Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You.”
Nicki said she was unaware about the sample and tried to clear it with Chapman in time to release “Sorry” on Queen. However, Chapman repeatedly refused.
“So there’s a record on #Queen that features 1 of the greatest rappers of all time,” Nicki tweeted about the predicament before releasing Queen. “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 1 week? Ugh! I’m torn, y’all help. Tracy Chapman, can you please hit me. omg for the love of #Queen.”
Though it was never officially released, “Sorry” ended up being played live on Hot 97 by DJ Funk Flex and was later leaked in its entirety online. Chapman has accused Nicki of sending the song to Flex, but both have denied this.
Despite Judge Phillips clearing “Sorry” of copyright infringement, Chapman’s lawyers are still arguing that Nicki’s alleged distribution of the single constitutes infringement. According to Variety, the issue of whether or not Nicki supplied “Sorry” to Flex will reportedly be decided by a jury.
“Such free-flowing creativity is important to all recording artists, but particularly in hip hop,” Nicki’s attorneys said after the ruling on Wednesday. “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.”