On Monday afternoon, a jury found Katy Perry, her producers, and Universal Music’s Capitol Records guilty of copyright infringement.
The jury in a California federal courtroom ruled that Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ outright copied Marcus Gray’s 2008 Christian hit, ‘Joyful Noise.’
The trial, which featured testimony from two musicologists and professors, lasted only a week. Gray, Emmanuel Lambert, Chike Ojukwu, and Lecrae Moore first filed the lawsuit in July 2014.
Dr. Luke, one of the song’s producers, said he always strives to create original works.
“We’re trying to make what we do as great as possible.”
Testifying against the copyright infringement claims, NYU professor and professional pianist Lawrence Ferrara dismissed both songs’ similarities as merely coincidental. The songs only share four notes, which he dubbed ‘the building blocks of music’ – C, B, A, and E.
“Parts of a descending scale are building blocks — anyone can use them.”
Ferrara has previously provided expert testimony for major artists in the music industry. These include Lady Gaga, Madonna, Bruno Mars, Carrie Underwood, and Bono.
Whether the jury’s decision is reasonable remains a head-scratching question for many within the music industry. As Christine Lepera, Perry’s defense attorney explained in her closing arguments,
“They’re trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone.”
Now, with the case moving to the damages phase, Perry and her team may have to pay a multi-million-dollar sum.
How much does ‘coincidental’ copyright infringement actually cost?
According to renowned musicologist and professor Todd Decker, both ‘Joyful Noise’ and ‘Dark Horse’ share at least “five or six points of similarity.” These include the pitch, rhythm, texture, patterns of repetition, melodic shape, and timbre.
To illustrate his point, he reportedly sang the pitch of the song. This likely influenced the jury on their unanimous decision.
Because of Perry’s likely-coincidental copyright infringement, Gray’s lawyers told jurors ‘Dark Horse’ earned a total of $41 million. Capitol Records allegedly received $31 million from the track’s success.
Arguing against the estimates, Capitol Records claimed it only made $630,000 in profit after factoring in costs. Perry’s lawyers say the song only netted the singer $3.2 million, excluding $800,000 in costs.
Speaking about the true amount, Gray’s attorney, Michael Kahn, told the California jury,
“I don’t want to give away any spoilers here, but some of the costs, get ready to roll your eyes.”
In his opening statement, Aaron Wais, Capitol’s attorney, said,
“What makes a Katy Perry song profitable? Katy Perry.”
Testimony about Capitol’s costs in both the creation and promotion of ‘Dark Horse’ started earlier today. How much the jury will deem Perry, her team, and the label liable – as well as the potential pitfalls and further legal liabilities in future cases – remains to be seen.
Featured image by Joella Marano (CC by 2.0).