Katy Perry Found Guilty of Copyright Infringement In ‘Dark Horse’ Trial — Faces Millions In Damages and Lost Royalties

Katy Perry has lost a massive copyright infringement lawsuit involving ‘Dark Horse’.

A California federal court jury has ruled that Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” was stolen from Christian rapper Marcus Gray, who performs as ‘Flame’.  The decision, issued Monday afternoon, quickly moves the proceedings towards the damages phase, where Perry could face millions in penalties and the forfeiture of future earnings from the song.

The trial lasted for about one week before today’s decision was issued.  It’s unclear if Perry will appeal the decision, though Perry’s attorneys are petitioning U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder to toss the jury’s decision as meritless given the evidence presented.

The lawsuit was lodged by Gray, Emmanuel Lambert, Chike Ojukwu, and Lecrae Moore; the group’s song, ‘Joyful Noise,’ was originally released in 2008.  “Dark Horse” was released in 2013.

Also found liable were Lukasz Gottwald (aka Dr. Luke), Karl Martin Sandberg (aka Max Martin), Henry Walter (aka Cirkut), songwriter Sarah Hudson, and rapper Jordan Michael Houston (aka Juicy J), who appeared as a featured artist on the song.  Capitol Records, Warner Music, Kobalt Publishing and Kasz Money Inc. were also named defendants.

Throughout, Perry and her attorneys argued that ‘Dark Horse’ was entirely original, with only vague similarities between the songs.

Perry stated that she’d never heard of Flame’s track.  Similarly, track producer Dr. Luke also claimed that he’d never heard of the song, while pointing to the Flame’s relative obscurity.

A side-by-side comparison of the track certainly reveals striking similarities (check out a comparison below).  But early on, Perry’s legal team argued that ‘Joyful Noise’ was simply too obscure to be noticed — much less copied.  Any similarities were simply a coincidence.

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Earlier, however, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder refused to toss the case, pointing to substantial views of ‘Joyful Noise’ on platforms like YouTube and even MySpace.  “[Plaintiffs] have demonstrated a triable issue of fact as to access because ‘Joyful Noise’ achieved critical success, including a Grammy nomination, and was readily available and viewed millions of times on YouTube and MySpace,” Snyder stated.

Gray and his legal team countered that Perry, Dr. Luke, or others involved in the writing process may have heard ‘Joyful Noise’ during the Grammys, where it was nominated prior to the release of ‘Dark Horse’.  That sounded like a stretch, though Snyder felt a trial was merited.

Still, ‘Joyful Noise’ has little notoriety compared to ‘Dark Horse’.

On YouTube, “Joyful Noise” has approximately 3.6 million views, while ‘Dark Horse’ has 2.6 billion, making the latter one of the biggest songs ever on YouTube.

Similarly, “Joyful Noise” has 3.37 million plays on Spotify, compared to 609 million for “Dark Horse”.  Incidentally, plays of “Joyful Noise” are now likely to surge given the court finding, though perhaps for all the wrong reasons.  As for reactions, we’re still waiting for official statements and reactions from within the industry, but the finding is undoubtedly creating another questionable verdict to chew upon.

And, a sense that arbitrary copyright verdicts can drop on anyone’s head — even if the commonalities are coincidental.

14 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Satish

    It fails the substsntial similarity test in copyright jurisprudence. There is no copyright in the idea or the genre. There is audio sampling applied by the Dark Horse track from the Joyful Noise track. An average person of limited musical recollection will not be able Dark Horse to Joyful Noise. The Appellate Court will throw out this verdict

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Shirley

      I hope so! There is no way one could confuse these two songs. They are obviously different. As a songwriter, I struggle sometimes after writing a song. I worry that I may have heard something similar years ago and inadvertently inserted it. But similar is not SAME. It seems that with just 8 notes (primarily) one could argue that all music is SIMILAR in some way or another. But similar does not constitute intentional copyright infringement. In my opinion, intent is important as is the degree of recognition. I think this one fails both tests. But then, I’m not a lawyer and they tend to see things way differently….as in $$$$.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Satish

    It fails the substsntial similarity test in copyright jurisprudence. There is no copyright in a musical idea or a particular genre of music. There is no audio sampling applied by the Dark Horse track from the Joyful Noise track. An average person of limited musical recollection will not be able connect Dark Horse to Joyful Noise. The Appellate Court will throw out this verdict

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    DW

    This is crazy. That synth line is about the only similarity. It’s time for countersuits this reminds me of patent trolls.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Katrina

    They are both guilty then. The intro is moments in love by the art of noise.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      BZ

      It’s wild, Dark Horse was obviously going for a sound/timbre similar to Art Of Noise. The melody is so simple and doesn’t even follow the Christian rap song’s.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Wise

    Legal stupidity at its most greedy.
    There is no direct audio copying
    The synth lines are not the same – different notes, rhythm & sound
    The only similarity is the rhythm and sound of the rhythm – which are not even the same and so incredibly common it should be immpossible to claim copyright.
    It means that anyone who owns a Machine expansion – or any cheap audio drum app – who has a hit – ‘could’ now become liable.

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Paul Lanning

    Terrible decision. Apparently no songwriter is safe from greedy pretenders and judicial incompetence.

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Deborah H

    Any musician/songwriter/astute listener can tell there’s no copyright infringement here. Almost every Top 40 song sounds alike though so it’s no wonder they sounded the same to the jury!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Sam

      After that, it should be an old blues artist, since everything was stolen from them.

      Reply
  8. Avatar
    Jerz

    Disappointed and saddened both of them (Katy and Flame) especially Dr. Luke, who’s now in downfall in terms of popularity everything from Kesha’s sexual assaults to legal battles.

    If Katy or her royalties should pay Flame or his team, then it should pay later.

    Reply

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