Katy Perry won an appeal over a long-standing copyright-infringement law case, confirming that the singer and her label didn’t have to pay $2.8 million in damages to Marcus Gray– a Christian rapper who alleged the musician of stealing an eight-note musical phrase, an ostinato, from his song “Joyful Noise” into her 2013 hit “Dark Horse.”
Gray initially won the case in 2019 after a jury found Perry guilty of copyright infringement. The singer was then ordered to pay 2.78million dollars in damages to Gray. However, As per People, the jury’s verdict was overturned in the following year when US district judge Christina Synder ruled that none of the elements in the ostinato could be “independently protectable” under copyright law.
“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, even in its deployment as an ostinato,” Snyder wrote.
“[P]rior compositions, including prior works composed by the parties, as well as what all agree is a separate non-infringing ostinato in ‘Dark Horse,’ all contain similar elements.”
Marcus Gray Appealed In 2020
According to the Associated Press, Gray appealed the ruling with his lawyer Kahn Michael, adding, “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. We believe the jury was right and will do our best to restore their verdict on appeal.”
However, the court of appeal upheld Synder’s ruling in a 3-0 vote. Although it was unlikely the case would head to the supreme court, Kahn explained to Billboard that he and his clients were weighing their choices.
“The notion that this simple, original, and clearly distinctive 8-note melody can’t be protected by copyright runs contrary to a series of simple and clearly distinctive 8-note opening melodies, including Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five,’ The Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction,’ and, of course, the 8-note opening to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. We are considering our options.”
The lead attorney on the other hand, Christine Lepera, praised the judgment of the ruling. “In a well reasoned and methodical decision, the court properly vacated the jury verdict, finding that ‘Dark Horse’ does not infringe ‘Joyful Noise,’ as a matter of law,” Lepera said. “This an important victory for music creators and the music industry, recognizing that music building blocks cannot be monopolized. The creators of ‘Dark Horse’ stand vindicated.”
Other Artists Who Have Had Copyright Infringement Lawsuits
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The decision for Perry comes as a big win for artists and signals a reversal in how cases like these would be tried and judged. In 2020, Led Zeppelin bagged a significant success in a copyright battle over “Stairway To Heaven” as the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling that his song didn’t infringe on Spirit’s 1968 “Taurus.”
This ruling concluded a long-winding and complicated law case that began in 2014 when Michael Skidmore — a representative of Spirit’s guitarist Randy Wolfe — accused Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of ripping off the opening guitar riff of “Stairway to Heaven” from “Taurus.”
Zeppelin won the case in 2016, but in 2018, a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit ruled that the ruling was erroneous and ordered a new trial.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Skidmore’s lawyer, Francis Malofiy, agreed with the panel, adding, “What you have here is a big win for the multi-billion dollar industry against the creatives. I love Led Zeppelin as a man, and I can separate my appreciation for them as four band members playing amazing music, but they’re the greatest art thieves of all time and they got away with it again today. They won on a technicality. But they absolutely stole that piece of work.”
Katy Perry Never Heard ‘Joyful Noise’ Before The Release Of Her Song
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The singer and other collaborators admitted that the song wasn’t popular enough to have heard it and copied it.
“No reasonable factfinder could have concluded that ‘Joyful Noise’ was so well-known that it could be reasonably inferred that Defendants heard it, particularly in this digital age of content overload, with billions of videos and songs available to users with trillions of streams.”
She continued, “Plaintiffs did not offer proof of one single digital or brick-and-mortar sale of ‘Joyful Noise’ or (the album) ‘Our World Redeemed ‘and admitted that they have no such evidence.”
Katy Perry’s ‘Dark House’ Was A Commercial Success
Aside from topping Billboard’s hot 100, the song also succeeded by topping Billboard’s mainstream top 40 chart for five weeks.
It also won MTV Video Music Awards American Music Awards and was nominated for Kids’ Choice Awards, ADG Excellence in Production Design Award, iHeartRadio Music Awards, and others.
As of 2020, the song has sold about a 6.4million copies in the United States.