Nicki Minaj released her latest album ‘Queen’ last year and it drove the crowd crazy! All the songs were a total hit. However, not everyone knows about that song which didn’t make it to the album. Going by the name ‘Sorry’, it supposedly interpolates the lyrics and melody of a well-known song. That one is Tracy Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You” released in the year 1988. The similarity is so explicit that Chapman went on to sue Minaj for copyright infringement.
Northeastern University’s own, David Herlihy, claimed of the ball being in Chapman’s court. He is a copyright lawyer and teaches about the music industry at the University. “Chapman totally has a case,” says Herlihy.
Minaj gave her song’s CD to a DJ, who in turn played it on the radio. He even posted it on his website. The song, as a result, reached everyone’s ears, including Chapman. He has taken it down, but the leaks are still circulating online. Minaj has sung entire verses and even the chorus of Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You.” Her ‘Sorry’ seems based on the foundation of the melody of Chapman’s song. This phenomenon, according to Herlihy, is ‘interpolation’.
“Interpolation has everything to do with melody and lyrics,” Herlihy says.
The case has many intricacies. Herlihy claims about the problem of interpolation without permission. “With a cover, you have to maintain the melody and character of the original song,” he explained. “With interpolation, you’re re-contextualizing it, you’re changing it. Nicki Minaj took Tracy Chapman’s song and made a personalized version.”
If Chapman would have authorized Minaj for a derivative work, it wouldn’t have been such big of a deal. Minaj, along with her lawyers, is trying to get the permission to release it. Till now, Chapman and her managers have denied their appeals. It is a copyright infringement, as Minaj didn’t take permission beforehand to use Chapman’s work. The fact that she openly gave her CD to the DJ, makes this a “pretty direct case,” according to Herlihy. “But it’s sort of like running a red light at 2 a.m.,” Herlihy said. “No one would have known about it if it were never released.”