Business News Legal Top Stories

Court rules that Katy Perry ripped off Christian rap track on Dark Horse

By | Published on Tuesday 30 July 2019

A jury in the US has ruled that Katy Perry and her songwriting pals ripped off a Christian rap track when they wrote her 2013 hit ‘Dark Horse’. After two days of deliberations, the jurors concluded that Perry’s team had likely heard 2008 release ‘Joyful Noise’ before writing ‘Dark Horse’, and that the latter was sufficiently similar to the former to constitute copyright infringement.

Perry was among those to testify once the long-running copyright dispute got to court earlier this month, as was prominent producer Dr Luke, a co-writer on Perry’s hit. Both said that they had never heard of ‘Joyful Noise’ or the artist behind it – the rapper Flame, real name Marcus Gray – before they started work on their record.

Luke insisted that the worlds of pop and Christian music were so far apart, it was very unlikely he or his collaborators would have randomly heard ‘Joyful Noise’ at some point between 2008 and 2013.

Needless to say, Gray’s team countered that there had been many opportunities for Perry et al to have heard ‘Joyful Noise’. They weren’t accusing the pop star of deliberately ripping off the rap track, arguing instead that her team had subconsciously infringed the earlier work, meaning that the defendants having simply heard the 2008 track was sufficient for the case.

And while it’s true that ‘Joyful Noise’ never enjoyed anything like the level of exposure of ‘Dark Horse’, Team Gray said that his track’s YouTube stats showed that the earlier record had been widely listened to, increasingly the likelihood Team Perry had heard it.

The other key argument to be had was whether the two tracks were sufficiently similar to constitute copyright infringement. The two records share a distinct musical phrase consisting of four C notes followed by two B notes.

The Perry side argued that this was a very common musical phrase that couldn’t possibly be protected by copyright. Luke added that if the court did indeed decide that a musical phrase of this kind enjoyed copyright protection, it could set a dangerous precedent that would impede the music making process.

But the other side insisted that the similarities between the two records were, in fact, sufficient to constitute copyright infringement. And the jury obviously concurred, while also deciding that ‘Joyful Noise’ had been widely enough distributed to mean that Perry and her team probably had been subconsciously influenced by it at some point.

It’s another high profile ruling in a song-theft case that is likely to be criticised by many in the songwriting community, who argue that similarities between songs of similar genres are inevitable, and rulings of this kind open up hit makers to no end of legal woes.

The next big question is what kind of damages the Perry side will now have to pay. The court decided to split the case into two phases, meaning arguments over money are yet to occur, but should begin later today. The Gray side previously argued that ‘Joyful Noise’ had been forever tarnished by its association with “the witchcraft, paganism, black magic and Illuminati imagery evoked by the same music in ‘Dark Horse'”. Which sounds like just the sort of claim you might want to reintroduce once you’re talking about damages.

It seems likely Perry, and her collaborators and business partners, will seek to appeal the jury decision, citing those in the songwriting community who argue that rulings of this kind set a dangerous precedent. But in that other headline-grabbing song-theft case of recent years, the ‘Blurred Lines’ litigation, the same arguments at the appeal stage didn’t achieve much.