Katy Perry’s Dark Horse loses the race

Written by | September 25, 2019


You may recall a few months ago we wrote about the copyright infringement case brought against Katy Perry by Christian hip hop artist Marcus Gray or Flame as he is known (don’t worry, we haven’t heard of him either) and two others over her song Dark Horse. The plaintiffs claimed that Perry and the other producers and songwriters who worked on the song copied the beat from Flame’s song Joyful Noise.

The defendants argued that they had never heard of the track, nor of Gray. Well, unfortunately for them that was not good enough for the judge, who held that they had copied the beat. Gray’s lawyers successfully argued that Joyful Noise was a widely known song, highlighting the millions of plays it has on YouTube and Spotify.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2014 and, after 5 years of litigation, Katy Perry and her label, Capitol Records were ordered to pay $2.78 million in damages. You would think Flame made a joyful noise when he heard the judgment, but he may actually have been a little disappointed in the end given the $20 million his lawyers argued that he was owed.

Perry personally was ordered to pay $550,000. Quite a hefty sum for one individual wouldn’t you say? Although Dark Horse became the second biggest selling single worldwide in 2014 (never mind all her other hits) and the video was the first ever by a female artist to reach a billion views on both YouTube and Vevo. So losing $550,000 for Perry is probably the equivalent of me accidentally dropping a tenner on the floor. In fairness she did give evidence in court and even offered to sing Dark Horse to the jury when the court’s speaker system broke.

You may be wondering what the significance of all this is – Katy Perry is one of the wealthiest pop stars today and most of us don’t even know who Flame is. However, this case is another in a series of judgments that could change and limit the way artists approach new music.

Perry’s lawyers argued that Gray and his team were “trying to own basic building blocks of music”. Artists will inevitably be influenced by one another and established staples and trends in pop music often shape the songs that follow. But should artists be able to draw influence from these conventions? Or should every song be entirely unique? Have a listen to the two tracks and see what you think.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a copyright infringement action or think someone else has copied your work, or even if you just want advice regarding ownership of material and contracts/licenses, here at Briffa our copyright solicitors are always on hand to help. Please do not hesitate to contact us at info@briffa.com or on 020 72886003 for a free consultation.

Written by Alex Fewtrell, Solicitor.

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