A Los Angeles federal judge overturned on Tuesday a jury’s verdict that found pop star Katy Perry and her collaborators guilty of copying a Christian rap song for her hit song, “Dark Horse.”
U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder said she did not believe the 2008 Christian hip-hop song “Joyful Noise” by rapper Marcus Gray was distinctive enough to be in violation of the copyright law as the jury found.
“It is undisputed in this case, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, that the signature elements of the eight-note ostinato in ‘Joyful Noise’ is not a particularly unique or rare combination,” Snyder wrote in her decision.
Perry, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, Capitol Records, and others had been ordered to pay $2.78 million by a California jury for copyright infringement in 2019. They appealed and asked the California courts to overturn the verdict or grant a new trial.
Gray, professionally known as Flame, plans to appeal the new ruling.
“When the jurors returned a unanimous verdict of infringement, I cautioned my clients that we had only finished Round 11 of a 15-round match and that the next round would take place in the court of appeals,” Gray’s attorney, Michael A. Kahn, said in a statement to the Associated Press. “We believe the jury was right and will do our best to restore their verdict on appeal.”
In the initial trial, Gray and his song’s co-creators had argued in their lawsuit that Perry's 2013 single “Dark Horse,” featuring Juicy J, copied the beat of their song "Joyful Noise," featuring Lecrae.
At the week-long trial last July, both Perry and “Dark Horse” producer Dr. Luke insisted they had never heard of "Joyful Noise." Gray argued that his song's success in the niche market went on to have massive success and the defendants may have gotten wind of it at the Grammy Awards or seen it on YouTube or other social media platforms where the song has been streamed millions of times.
Todd Decker, a musicologist, broke down the underlying beat in both songs during the trial last summer. While Perry's attorneys argued that the musical pattern is too short and common to be copyright protected, Decker testified that the ostinatos (short melodic phrase repeated throughout a composition) share “five or six points of similarity,” including pitch, rhythm, texture, pattern of repetition, melodic shape and timbre, or “the quality and color of a sound," as reported by Billboard.
In the appeal this week, Perry’s attorney, Christine Lepera, described the first verdict as a “travesty of justice” that would greatly affect creativity in the long run.
The judgment follows a similar ruling in California, as a federal court handed a similar victory to Led Zeppelin over the 1971 classic “Stairway to Heaven.”