Many music artists in the modern era use samples of other artists’ songs in their own work. It may be a way to pay homage to that artist or reimagine the piece being used. However, some musicians are opposed to their music being sampled in another artist’s song, saying it’s a violation of copyright law. This is what singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman alleges in her lawsuit against rapper Nicki Minaj. This case could have far-reaching implications for music artists in New York and across the country.
According to Chapman, Minaj used a sample of song “Baby Can I Hold You” in her song, “Sorry,” without obtaining permission. Chapman is known for not giving others permission to sample her music. Back in 2017, Minaj collaborated with hip-hop artist Nas to come up with “Sorry,” and they say they attempted to get Chapman’s permission to use the sample of “Baby Can I Hold You,” but Chapman denied the request. Minaj even tried to make public pleas on social media, but her requests went nowhere.
The song wasn’t put on Minaj’s album, but a radio DJ posted a link to the song on Instagram as well as playing it on his show. Chapman says this is a clear violation of copyright law, but Minaj and her reps argue that since “Sorry” didn’t appear on an album or as an official single release, it is simply “experimentation” by two artists. Minaj’s reps believe that a lawsuit like Chapman’s could prevent artists from artistic exploration and experimentation.
The case does present some interesting questions regarding exactly what constitutes artistic experimentation and what may violate copyright law. For artists of all mediums here in New York, they may have to consider that question for themselves when they want to protect their creations. An experienced copyright law attorney may be a valuable source of information for artists who want to legally protect their work.