So, did Katy Perry’s producers, including Dr. Luke, copy Marcus Grey’s 2008 single, ‘Joyful Noise,’ to create the smash-hit ‘Dark Horse?’
Update (July 29th): A California jury has now ruled that Katy Perry is guilty of copyright infringement on “Dark Horse” — full details here.
The case all started in July 2014. Christian rappers Marcus Gray (i.e., Flame), Emmanuel Lambert (i.e, ‘D.A.’ Truth’), Chike Ojukwu, and Lecrae Moore sued Perry at a Missouri federal court.
They accused the singer as well as Universal Music’s Capitol Records and ‘Dark Horse’ producers of knowingly infringing ‘Joyful Noise’ on ‘Dark Horse.’ The case soon moved to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
On Friday, renowned musicologist and professor Todd Decker testified before a jury.
He first explained he has dedicated his career to studying ‘musical borrowing’ – especially rhythm, melody, notes, and the overall combination of elements in a musical phrase. Decker then suggested Perry outright copied Gray’s ‘Joyful Noise’ on ‘Dark Horse.’
On the stand, he reportedly sang the pitch of each song. Decker then told the jury both songs’ eight-note ‘ostinato’ share “five or six points of similarity.” This includes the pitch, rhythm, texture, patterns of repetition, melodic shape, and timbre.
Lambasting Decker’s damning testimony, Perry’s attorneys argued that since Chike Ojukwu created the beat of ‘Joyful Noise,’ Gray has no legitimate copyright claim in the case.
Earlier this week, famed producer Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald – i.e., Dr. Luke – took the stand to share his own testimony.
The famed producer told the court that he’d never heard of Christian rappers Gray (who goes under the name ‘Flame’), Emanuel Lambert (‘D.A. Truth’), nor Ojukwu. He added ‘Dark Horse’ first started as an instrumental beat created by fellow songwriter and producer, Henry Walter (known as Cirkut). The eight-note melodic started off with four catchy C notes and two B notes. These, said Dr. Luke, serve as the building blocks of music.
Testifying about the song’s originality, Walter soon took the stand and told the jury,
“I consider myself to be an honest person. To be accused of plagiarism — it’s a serious matter. I was hurt by it.”
Now, another day has passed. This means another key person has shared their testimony.
Should the ‘building blocks of music’ count as plagiarism?
Testifying as an expert witness for Katy Perry and her team, New York University professor and pianist Lawrence Ferrara explained the only true similarity both ‘Joyful Noise’ and ‘Dark Horse’ share is four notes – C, B, A, and E – played in an “elementary manner.”
This, said the NYU professor, could be found in many classic songs, including ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and ‘Merrily We Roll Along.’
“Parts of a descending scale are building blocks — anyone can use them.”
Ferrara has experience providing expert testimony for major artists in the music industry. These include Lady Gaga, Madonna, Bruno Mars, Carrie Underwood and Bono.
He started his analysis by first listening to both songs. Then, he transcribed the works onto paper as this “provides a level of detail that listening alone will not provide.”
According to Ferrara, Decker wrongfully identified a “misleading” eight-note phrase in ‘Joyful Noise.’ The renowned musicologist had failed to closely investigate the sliding notes.
“Transforming melodies is part of songwriting.”
Ferrara also found other songs with the similar ‘building blocks’ in ‘Joyful Noise’ and ‘Dark Horse.’ These include a track from 2002 drama and romance film, ‘The Hours,’ and another song both Dr. Luke and ‘Dark Horse’ co-writer Max Martin produced in 2006 – Lady Sovereign’s ‘Love Me or Hate Me.’
Thus, no legitimate evidence of music plagiarism actually exists.
According to Ferrara, Katy Perry’s team produced ‘Dark Horse’ independently of “Joyful Noise.’ The so-called similar “musical building blocks” found in both songs are merely a “coincidence.”
Featured image by Katy Perry (YouTube screengrab).