Tracy Chapman has accused Nicki Minaj of infringing the copyright of her song, “Baby Can I Hold You,” for her remake titled “Sorry” which features Nas. U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips, after reviewing summary judgment documents from both parties, concluded that Minaj’s “Sorry” creation constituted fair use of copyright.
In making this decision, Phillips rejected Chapman’s claim that Minaj should have obtained a license for “Sorry” and that this was a commercial effort, so she should have known to get copyright clearance. This decision doesn’t consider later unsuccessful attempts at clearance or a controversial leak of the song.
This pretrial ruling supports “intermediate copying” while a song is being created, as part of the creative process of a new composition. As it happened, Minaj and Nas were experimenting in the studio in 2017 and were aware they would require a license to put “Sorry” on a forthcoming album. Chapman had denied their licensing requests. In August 2018, an exchange between Minaj and DJ Funkmaster Flex led the DJ to play “Sorry” on his radio show in New York and promote it through social media. All signs point to Minaj as the track’s leaker, but there are factual disputes which need to be resolved at the trial.