Katy Perry's Dark Horse copyright lawsuit explained as singer emerges victorious

Katy Perry has emerged victorious in the Dark Horse copyright lawsuit that was filed back in 2014 by Christian rapper, Marcus Gray or Flame. (Images via Instagram / @KatyPerry and YouTube / still from Dark Horse)
Katy Perry has emerged victorious in the Dark Horse copyright lawsuit that was filed back in 2014 by Christian rapper, Marcus Gray or Flame. (Images via Instagram / @KatyPerry and YouTube / still from Dark Horse)

Katy Perry has defeated the Dark Horse copyright lawsuit filed against her in 2014 by hip-hop artist and rapper Marcus Gray.

Gray, who goes by the moniker of "Flame," had claimed that Dark Horse bore similarities to his song Joyful Noise. In 2019, the jury found Katy Perry liable and awarded Gray $2.8 million in damages. However, the jury ruling was overturned by a court in 2020, handing her the win. It was one of the rare cases where a judge overturned a verdict that was previously passed by a jury.


Timeline of Katy Perry Dark Horse copyright infringement case

In 2019, a Los Angeles jury found Katy Perry liable for copyright infringement of a song by Christian rapper Flame. However, a year later, the verdict was overturned as a judge ruled that the eight-note ostinato that Perry allegedly copied lacked the “quantum of originality” to warrant copyright protection.

In 2020, Gray appealed the decision by writing a brief about the incriminating similarity of timbre between the two songs. He further argued against the musicologists’ use of databases of melodies to determine instances of similarities in previous works. On March 10, 2022, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s overturning of the initial jury verdict.

On Thursday, Judge Christina A. Snyder found that the jury’s verdict was not supported by the weight of the evidence in the case. She reportedly said that a short musical phrase at issue is not original enough to warrant copyright protection.

Variety quoted her as saying:

“It is undisputed in this case that the signature elements of the eight-note ostinato in Joyful Noise is not a particularly unique or rare combination.”

Snyder backed her conclusion in the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness, musicologist Todd Decker.

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In a similar case, Led Zeppelin defeated Michael Skidmore over a factually similar suit over Stairway to Heaven. As of now, American pop-sensation Dua Lipa has two lawsuits for her global hit Levitating. The current lawsuit focuses on the signature melody from the beginning of the song.

In a separate case, British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran appeared before London’s High Court on March 4 for a copyright infringement case for his 2017 hit single Shape of You. Sami Chokri (who goes by the pseudonym Sami Switch) and Ross O’Donoghue alleged that Sheeran’s song was similar to their 2015 song Oh Why.

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Edited by Sandeep Banerjee