On August 1, a federal jury in Los Angeles calculated that Katy Perry, her label Capitol Records and related co-defendants owe rapper Marcus Gray and his co-writer $2.78 million for copyright infringement for Perry’s 2013 megahit “Dark Horse.” Gray, also known professionally as Flame, alleged in his lawsuit that Perry and her writing and production team copied for “Dark Horse” a basic series of notes used repeatedly in Gray’s popular 2008 Christian rap song “Joyful Noise.”
According to CBS, the jury calculated damages based on their finding that 22.5% of “Dark Horse” profits can be traced to the six-note musical phrase in “Joyful Noise.”
The verdict and damage award are not without controversy since the dispute only involves a series of six notes. Variety reports that Perry’s lawyer argued in closing argument that the plaintiffs were “trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone,” implying further that Perry would appeal.
At trial, Perry testified that she was not familiar with Gray’s song.
The Variety article explains that a growing number of professionals oppose complex musical copyright cases going to juries of people who have no background in music. The concern is that copyright infringement will be found for elements of songs that are so common that they do not merit protection. Still others point to the constitutional right to a jury trial.
Variety also reports that many of these kinds of music copyright cases are being settled instead of going to trial and that in some cases, the music professionals being sued are agreeing to add plaintiffs’ names to the list of writers getting credit for those songs.
(An article about the case in Digital Music News includes videos of each song for comparison.)