A reclusive Chicago-based musician has sued singer Nicki Minaj, claiming the hip-hop star ripped off her smash 2012 single “Starships” from one of his earlier songs, “Neu Chicago.”
Clive Tanaka, an electro-pop musician who is largely unknown in the U.S., filed a copyright infringement suit against Minaj and her collaborators Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, more than a year after he first posted about a comparison of the songs online.
Tanaka and his company, Tanaka Light Industries USA, allege that Minaj copied a significant portion of the 2011 tune “Neu Chicago” and used the beats in “Starships,” which spent 21 consecutive weeks in the Top 10 on the Billboard charts, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The suit also accuses Moroccan producer RedOne, whose real name is Nadir Khayet, of facilitating the copyright infringement. RedOne is a citizen of Sweden, Tanaka claims in court documents, and may have been living there at the time when “Neu Chicago” was being played a lot on the radio and being used in marketing campaigns.
“They had a very good opportunity to hear it,” Christopher Niro, Tanaka’s attorney, told the Tribune.
Minaj and her representatives have yet to comment on the allegations.
Experts say copyright infringement cases can be tricky to navigate.
“You want to reward creativity, but you don’t want to accidentally punish people for using what are the building blocks of an entire style of music,” Matthew Sag, a Loyola University Chicago law professor specializing in the subject, told the Tribune. “No one owns a genre.”
A similar case made headlines last month when singer Robin Thicke filed a preemptory lawsuit to protect his hit “Blurred Lines” from copyright infringement claims from some of Marvin Gaye’s relatives, who alleged that the tune sounded a lot like “Got to Give It Up.”
Here are recordings of the two songs in question:
By Alexandra Ward