On Tracy Chapman’s sampling lawsuit against Nicki Minaj…

Probably the only time you will see a Nicki Minaj post up here. No disrespect…

To understand what’s at stake for hip-hop, Okayplayer spoke with Karl Fowlkes, Esq., a music lawyer and music industry professor at Rowan University, who has gotten samples cleared from artists like Donnell Jones and Roger Trouman.

What are Tracy Chapman’s chances of actually winning this lawsuit, and why?

I don’t think Tracy Chapman’s chances are too good because Nicki Minaj never commercially released the song. This is a weird case because no one is actually fighting the validity of the interpolation. Here, Chapman is challenging whether a song even has to be commercially released by the artist or label to be held liable for infringement involving a sample. That is an extremely dangerous notion. Imagine having to clear a sample before even playing around with it — that just doesn’t make sense. Creativity would be stifled.

How do you envision this lawsuit playing out?

I think that it will ultimately result in Nicki Minaj’s favor. An opposing ruling would severely undercut the essence of creation because of the nature of hip-hop. People send uncleared records to others all the time to get feedback and perspective. If those songs leak, should the artist be held liable? Did the artist really commercially distribute the work? No and no.

Why didn’t Hot 97 or Funkmaster Flex get hit with the lawsuit?

I would think that they are just as at fault as Nicki. But Nicki Minaj is probably the easier target and they probably think that Nicki told the station to play it. Hot 97, in my opinion, should be targeted in this case.

What do you think is the reason that artists don’t like to clear samples for?

I still don’t think that hip-hop has enough respect. Some people cut against the genre when it comes to sampling requests, and also just want to leave their work alone. The reality in this situation is that Tracy Chapman could have sat tight and made thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands more dollars by accepting the sample clearance.

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