The years-long dispute between Tracy Chapman and Nicki Minaj over the rapper’s unreleased song, “Sorry,” got its first major decision this week, with a judge handing Minaj a victory in the copyright infringement suit.
As Variety reports, Judge Virginia A Phillips found the song to fall under “fair use,” a doctrine that allows artists and publishers to use portions of another person’s work.
“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,” Phillips wrote in the judgment, which was handed down on Wednesday. “A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”
Chapman filed the complaint in 2018, on the grounds that the song, which was supposed to appear on Minaj’s Queen album, contained an interpolation of Chapman’s 1988 single “Baby Can I Hold You,” which was used without her permission. While the song didn’t make Minaj’s 2018 album, Chapman accused Minaj of leaking “Sorry” to Funkmaster Flex, Vibe reports. She also publicly asked Chapman to grant her permission to use the sample, which Chapman denied.
But Funkmaster Flex played the song on the radio anyway. Minaj denied giving the influential New York DJ the track, and Flex claims he got the track from a “blogger” which—okay, sure. Part of the song was also played on “The Breakfast Club,” and the track was easily searchable online.
That last part means the legal battle is not over, notes Pitchfork: a judge will need to decide whether Minaj infringed on Chapman’s work by distributing “Sorry” over the radio. Chapman is seeking damages and an order to prevent Minaj from releasing the track, which also features Nas.