30 July 2019CopyrightRory O'Neill

Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ infringed Christian rapper’s copyright

A US jury has found that American pop star Katy Perry’s 2013 hit “Dark Horse” infringed copyright owned by Christian rapper Marcus Gray, more commonly known as Flame.

The Los Angeles jury will now determine damages in the case.

Gray sued Perry and her co-songwriters, including producer Dr Luke, in 2014, claiming that “Dark Horse” ripped off the beat of his 2008 track “Joyful Noise”.

During the jury trial, held at the US District Court for the Central District of California, lawyers for the defendants argued that Gray did not own copyright for the instrumental beat to “Joyful Noise”, which was created by musician Chike Ojukwu.

Perry and her co-defendants also argued that Gray had failed to prove that the two tracks were substantially similar.

According to the jury verdict, issued yesterday, July 29, Perry, Universal Music Group and others involved in the production of “Dark Horse” were liable for copyright infringement.

Gray had initially  sued Perry in 2014 at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, before the case resumed in 2015 in California.

The verdict was met with some surprise from copyright experts. Nick McDonald, copyright specialist at Potter Clarkson, said that the decision "shows just how low the bar can be for copyright infringement".

"The segment of music in question is extremely simple and short, has a markedly different production and tempo and there are clear differences between the two songs as regards the notes actually used," McDonald said.

"Certainly, there is a degree of similarity, particularly in the three note descending melody played over the beat line, but there will be some sympathy for Perry’s lawyers, who argued that the claimants are essentially trying to assert a monopoly over the 'basic building blocks of music'," he added.

As well as the infringement of his copyright, Gray also took issue with being associated with the music video for Perry’s song.

“The devoutly religious message of ‘Joyful Noise’ has been irreparably tarnished by its association with the witchcraft, paganism, black magic, and Illuminati imagery evoked by the same music in ‘Dark Horse’,” his original lawsuit claimed.

The lyrics of “Joyful Noise” pay tribute to Jesus Christ and the Bible, and are set to Ojukwu’s instrumental beat.

“Dark Horse” was among the most popular songs of 2013, topping the charts in the US, Canada, and the Netherlands.

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More on this story

2 August 2019   Katy Perry and her record label must pay almost $3 million in damages to a rapper after a jury found, earlier this week, that her single “Dark Horse” infringed his copyright.
11 October 2019   Katy Perry has labelled a jury’s decision to find her liable for copyright infringement over her song “Dark Horse” and award a Christian rapper $2.7 million in damages as a “grave miscarriage of justice”.