Katy Perry scores win as judge rules 'Dark Horse' didn't copy Christian rap track
The decision reverses a jury verdict from last year.
Katy Perry and company just scored a legal win as a judge ruled that her 2013 track “Dark Horse” did not copy a Christian rap song, more than seven months after a jury found the singer guilty of infringement.
In late July, a nine-member jury reached the verdict that Perry's hit copied the 2009 song “Joyful Noise,” released under Marcus Gray's stage name, Flame. That decision came five years after Gray and two co-authors first sued. Perry’s camp was ordered to pay $2.78 million in damages, although her record label, Capitol Records, would have footed the majority of the bill.
U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder ruled the defendants — Perry, Capitol Records, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, and others who worked on the song — not liable for infringing on "Joyful Noise," meaning they no longer have to pay Gray in damages.
In her opinion dated Monday, Judge Snyder said Gray can’t make the argument for the extrinsic test, which requires “that the plaintiff identify concrete elements based on objective criteria” that the two works are similar.
During the jury trial last year, Gray’s attorneys’ argued that the ostinato (a short musical or rhythmic phrase repeated in music) in “Joyful Noise” is substantially similar to what is heard through almost half of “Dark Horse.”
Meanwhile, Perry’s attorneys argued that those elements found in “Dark Horse” represent the foundations of music, and that a decision against Perry would set negative precedents for musicians and songwriters across the industry.
“They’re trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone,” Christine Lepera, Perry’s lawyer, said during closing arguments in July.
Judge Snyder evidently agreed with Lepera.
“It is undisputed in this case, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, that the signature elements of the 8-note ostinato in ‘Joyful Noise’… is not a particularly unique or rare combination, even in its deployment as an ostinato," her opinion reads. “[P]rior compositions, including prior works composed by the parties, as well as what all agree is a separate non-infringing ostinato in 'Dark Horse,' all contain similar elements.”
Gray, however, will still be able to appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit.
The jury's decision was controversial from the beginning, as numerous music and legal experts sided with Perry, saying it was unfair to block an artist from using fundamental parts of music.
In a video regarding the case, musician and composer Adam Neely pointed out that the two songs in contention “don’t share the same melody nor the same chord progression or baseline or drum groove,” only a repeated melodic fragment whose variants have been used throughout music history.
Perry's victory comes a week after Led Zeppelin triumphed in an important copyright case over “Stairway to Heaven,” when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict deciding that the band's famous tune did not infringe on an earlier song by another group.