Artist News Business News Labels & Publishers Legal Top Stories

Joyful Noise rapper takes Katy Perry song-theft case to the Ninth Circuit appeals court

By | Published on Friday 17 April 2020

Katy Perry

The rapper who accused Katy Perry of ripping off his song ‘Joyful Noise’ on her hit ‘Dark Horse’ has formally filed appeal proceedings with the US’s Ninth Circuit court of appeal.

It could have been Perry taking the matter to the Ninth Circuit, given that last year a jury sided with rapper Marcus Grey, who performs as Flame, in round one of the big ‘Dark Horse’ song-theft case. They then awarded Grey and his collaborators $2.8 million in damages.

However, Perry’s lawyers successfully persuaded the judge in the Californian district court where the case was heard to overturn the jury’s ruling. Despite the jury buying the argument that ‘Dark Horse’ had lifted elements of ‘Joyful Noise’ without permission, judge Christina Snyder concluded that the Grey team’s arguments failed as a matter of law.

In a lengthy judgement last month she said that “the uncontroverted evidence points to only one conclusion”, ie that none of the individual elements that the two songs have in common are substantial enough – nor is the way those elements are arranged original enough – to be protected by copyright. Therefore Perry et al were not liable for copyright infringement.

As is the norm, the Grey side’s first filing with the Ninth Circuit earlier this week was administrative and doesn’t include any legal arguments. Those will follow, and will presumably include the same copyright arguments presented before, with some extra stuff on why judges shouldn’t overrule juries in circumstances like this.

The music industry at large will follow the appeals process with interest. Synder’s judgement last month was one of a number of recent rulings in the American courts that seem to be restricting the reach of copyright when it comes to songs that contain the same common musical elements or share a certain vibe, so that such similarities do not constitute copyright infringement.

These rulings contrast with the precedent many thought had been set when the Marvin Gaye estate won the big ‘Blurred Lines’ copyright case.

One of the other recent rulings in this domain was another headline-grabbing case before the Ninth Circuit, ie the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ litigation.

Perry’s team will be hoping that the fact the Ninth Circuit – sitting en banc (so with more judges) – decided that Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’ did not infringe earlier work ‘Taurus’ by Spirit, despite some similarities, is a good sign.

Though in that case, by ruling that way, the appeals court was upholding the original jury decision. So maybe the Grey side are hoping that the precedent recently set in the Ninth Circuit is actually that jury decisions in copyright cases should be respected.