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Judge Sides With Nicki Minaj in Tracy Chapman Copyright Dispute

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  • Nicki Minaj recorded her song “Sorry” in 2017, which featured lyrics and melodies from Tracy Chapman’s 1988 song “Baby Can I Hold You.”
  • When Chapman repeatedly refused to give Minaj licensing permission for the track, it was dropped from Minaj’s 2018 “Queen” album. However, the song later leaked on the radio and online, prompting Chapman to file a copyright infringement lawsuit against Minaj.
  • Chapman accused her of distributing the song to a radio DJ and claimed she shouldn’t have even been allowed to record it. 
  • Minaj’s team denied distributing the song and warned that artists need to be able to experiment with existing material without worrying that they could be sued once they actually do approach that rights-holder for a license. 
  • A judge sided with Minaj Wednesday, saying her demo song falls under fair use, adding, “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”

The Two Songs 

A judge has ruled in favor of Nicki Minaj on Wednesday in a copyright infringement lawsuit brought against her by fellow singer Tracy Chapman.

Music lovers and members of the industry have had a close eye on this case, believing it could have a huge impact on the music industry.

The suit stems from a 2017 song Minaj recorded featuring Nas called “Sorry.” At the time, the rapper was reportedly under the impression that the song was a remake of a one created by artist Shelly Thunder. However, she later discovered that most of the lyrics and some of the melody came from Tracy Chapman’s 1988 song “Baby Can I Hold You.”

After learning this, Minaj’s representatives reached out to Chapman for permission to use the song, but Chapman repeatedly refused. According to Chapman, she had a blanket policy against granting such permission, so in 2018, Minaj dropped her “Queen” album without the song “Sorry.”

The unreleased track then somehow made its way into the hands of a New York radio DJ known as Funkmaster Flex, who played it on air. Portions of the track also later aired on “The Breakfast Club,” before leaking online. 

The Lawsuit 

In response, Chapman filed a copyright infringement lawsuit accusing Minaj of providing the DJ with the song and arguing that Minaj shouldn’t have even been allowed to make the unauthorized track in the first place.

Both Minaj and Flex have denied that the song came from her or her authorized representatives. Instead, Flex said he received it from one of his bloggers.

Minaj’s attorneys then filed a motion warning that Chapman’s suit “should send a shiver down the spine of those concerned with the entertainment industry.” 

They argued that artists need to be free to create something based on existing material without worrying that they could be sued for experimenting once they actually do approach that rights-holder for a license. 

“Such free-flowing creativity is important to all recording artists, but particularly in hip hop,” her legal team said.

“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.”

They also warned that ruling in Chapman’s favor “would impose a financial and administrative burden so early in the creative process that all but the most well-funded creators would be forced to abandon their visions at the outset.”

Judge’s Ruling

The latest update to the case came Wednesday when U.S. district judge Virginia A. Phillips ultimately sided with Minaj.

In her ruling, the judge said the rapper’s experimentation with the song constitutes “fair use” not copyright infringement.

“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,” she explained.

“Chapman has requested samples of proposed works before approving licensing requests herself because she wanted ‘to see how [her work] will be used’ before approving the license, yet Chapman argues against the very practice she maintains. A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”

What’s Next? 

The decision is a major win for Minaj but the dispute between the two artists isn’t exactly over. 

That’s because Chapman is still trying to argue that Minaj infringed on her song rights by sending the song to Funkmaster Flex. Chapman’s lawyers asked the judge to find that the distribution constituted copyright infringement as a matter of law, but the judge ruled that that dispute would need to go to a jury. 

That could end up being a pretty tricking case for Minaj because according to Chapman’s legal team, she reached out to Flex on August 3, 2018, offering the song. Minaj allegedly followed up a week later on August 10 saying, “You got me tonight? The song is me and Nas. Send your number.” The next day, the song was played on the radio and promoted on social media.

Minaj’s team has pushed back against some of these points, as well as other claims, still maintaining that she did not send the song.

In her decision, judge Phillips noted factual disputes concerning when Flex received the work, who exactly gave it to him, whether it was a mastered version, and more. When the trial takes place, Minaj will likely be pressed on some of this conflicting information. 

See what others are saying: (Variety) (Complex) (MarketPlace

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“Don’t Worry Darling” Tops the Box Office Amid Bad Press

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Audiences are already giving the film higher praise than critics did.


Young Women Flock to “Don’t Worry Darling” 

Weeks of controversies and rumors did not prevent “Don’t Worry Darling” from finding victory at the box office, with the Olivia Wilde-directed thriller debuting at number one over the weekend and raking in $19.2 million. 

Wilde also acted in the mid-century mystery, which starrs Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, and Gemma Chan.

Women led ticket sales for the picture, comprising 66% of the audience, according to several reports. At least partially due to the appeal of Styles, crowds also skewed young, with over half under the age of 25.

Overseas, the film made over $10 million, bringing its total for the weekend to $30 million. That number is especially impressive since the R-rated drama had a budget of $35 million.

“Don’t Worry Darling” had been plagued with weeks of rumors about behind-the-scenes drama leading up to its release. Among other bouts of gossip, many online speculated that Pugh and Wilde had riffs on set, leading to Pugh’s refusal to promote the project. One report alleged the two got into a screaming match, but sources on set denied it. 

Wilde and Shia LeBeouf, who was originally cast in the picture, also got into a public he-said-she-said about whether he quit the film or was fired. 

The drama hit a boiling point during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival when Twitter users circulated a video they claimed showed Styles spiting on Pine, though both parties have denied that allegation. 

A Film Riddled With Rumors 

Furthering the bad press were the bad reviews. Critics largely panned the film, sticking it with a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes. After this first weekend, moviegoers seem to have a more favorable outlook, as it has a 79% audience score as of Monday. 

Jeff Goldstein, the distribution chief for Warner Bros., told the Associated Press that “the background noise” caused by these controversies “had a neutral impact” on its box office haul. The studio released a statement saying it was pleased with the movie’s earnings. 

Some analysts believe that, if anything, the online gossip and fodder may have aided the film’s box office performance.

In a tweet recapping the weekend’s box office, Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, said the “drama sparked a huge wave of interest.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Box Office Mojo) (New York Times)

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Senators Introduce Legislation Requiring Radios to Pay Royalties to Artists

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Sen. Padilla argued the bill is necessary to give artists the “dignity and respect they deserve.”


The American Music Fairness Act

Sens. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the American Music Fairness Act to the Senate on Thursday, a bill that would require radio stations to pay royalties to performers and rights holders. 

The bill was previously introduced to the House last year. According to a release, the United States is the only democratic country where artists are not compensated for their music’s use on AM or FM radio. While songwriters and publishers receive payment, these stations have never been required to give a slice of the pie to performers and copyright holders. 

On streaming and satellite radio, however, both groups receive royalty payments. 

In a statement, Padilla said it is time the country starts treating “our musical artists with the dignity and respect they deserve for the music they produce and we enjoy every day.”

“California’s artists have played a pivotal role in enriching and diversifying our country’s music scene,” he added. “That is why passing the American Music Fairness Act is so important.”

“From Beale Street to Music Row to the hills of East Tennessee, the Volunteer State’s songwriters have undeniably made their mark,” Blackburn echoed. “Tennessee’s creators deserve to be compensated for their work. This legislation will ensure that they receive fair payment and can keep the great hits coming.”

The American Music Fairness Act would require terrestrial radio broadcasters to pay royalties to music creators when their songs are played. It would also protect smaller stations that either make less than $1.5 million in annual revenue or who have a parent company that makes less than $10 million in annual revenue by letting them play unlimited music for under $500 a year. 

The bill would also require other countries to pay American artists for the use of their work.

Support From Major Music Groups

The legislation is endorsed by a number of groups, including the Recording Academy, SAG-AFTRA, and the American Federation of Musicians. 

If passed, the bill could move a lot of money into the pockets of performers. According to the Recording Academy, when American music gets international airplay, other countries collect royalties for American artists, amounting to around $200 million every year. However, they “never pay those royalties because the U.S. does not reciprocate with our own performance right.”

Fran Drescher, President of SAG-AFTRA, argues that the money belongs to the artists. 

“Broadcast companies profit from advertising sales because of the creative content musicians and singers record. It stands to reason that the performers who create the content deserve to be compensated just as songwriters are now,” Drescher said in a statement. “The reason it’s called the American Music Fairness Act is because the current situation is wholly unfair and it’s up to Congress to make it fair NOW!”

Last year, Representatives Steve Womack (R-AR) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) introduced the Local Radio Freedom Act, a bill with essentially the opposite agenda. It aims to reserve radio’s royalty-free status. The American Music Fairness Act is being viewed as a counter-response to this bill.

See what others are saying: (Variety) (Billboard)

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Kanye West Says Catalog Is Potentially Being Sold Without His Permission: “Just Like Taylor Swift”

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After Swift lost the rights to her life’s work, she took on the endeavor of re-recording her first six albums. 


Kanye’s Catalog Potentially Up For Grabs

Following reports that Kanye West was considering selling his catalog, the artist took to Instagram on Tuesday to claim his work is potentially being sold without his approval.

On Monday, Billboard reported that West had been “quietly and intermittently shopping his publishing catalog.”

While the outlet’s sources did not reveal what price West was aiming for, Billboard estimated that West might be looking at a $175 million valuation for his discography. Some of Billboard’s sources seemingly suggested that West and his team were specifically behind the effort to sell his work, but others claimed the “catalog was never actively shopped” and instead, West had been receiving offers from potential buyers. 

Not long after, several news outlets picked the story up and reported that West was gearing up to sell his catalog. West responded by writing on his Instagram story that this was not the case. 

“Not For Sale”

“Just like Taylor Swift,” he said, referencing music mogul Scooter Braun purchasing Swift’s masters with Big Machine Records without her approval. “My publishing is being put up for my sale without my knowledge. Not for sale.”

Swift referred to the sale of her masters to Braun as her “worst case scenario.” In order to regain ownership of her work, she is in the process of re-recording her first six albums, all of which she originally made under Big Machine. Two have already been released and proved to be wildly commercially successful. 

According to Forbes, it is unclear which of his albums West owns the masters to, if he owns any at all. Because of this, it is unknown what kind of position he would be put in if his catalog, which is currently managed by Sony, was sold.

The status of any potential for his work to be sold became foggier later on Tuesday when West shared screenshots of a text exchange he had. He asked an unidentified person what was happening with the catalog sale, and that person responded by calling it “fake news.”

“Of course every publisher wants to pitch [their] hardest buy, smh,” the text continued. 

West did not further indicate if those texts were meant to clarify that his catalog was, in fact, not up for sale, or just further distance himself from any potential acquisition.

See what others are saying: (Billboard) (Forbes) (Complex)

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