I don’t care much about Katy Perry or her music but I do find this interesting as a David vs. Goliath story. Yesterday a jury determined that everyone involved in the creation of one of Perry’s hit songs was responsible for taking beats from a Christian rap artist. The Perry song in question is called “Dark Horse” and is one of the tunes that Perry performed during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2015 (Remember left shark?). Perry’s song was found to be substantially similar to a rap song called “Joyful Noise” by artist Marcus Gray which was popular not long before the time “Dark Horse” was written:
In a decision that left many in the courtroom surprised, jurors found all six songwriters and all four corporations that released and distributed the songs were liable, including Perry and Sarah Hudson, who wrote only the song’s words, and Juicy J, who only wrote the rap he provided for the song…
The defendants’ musical expert testified that the musical patterns in dispute were as simple as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
But the jury of six women and three men disagreed, finding that the bumping beat and riff at the center of “Joyful Noise” were original enough to be copyrighted.
Perry and the song’s co-authors testified during the seven-day trial that none of them had heard the song or heard of Gray before the lawsuit, nor did they listen to Christian music.
Gray’s attorneys had only to demonstrate, however, that “Joyful Noise” had wide dissemination and could have been heard by Perry and her co-authors. They provided as evidence that it had millions of plays on YouTube and Spotify, and that the album it’s included on was nominated for a Grammy.
The penalty phase of the trial will begin today, meaning the jury will now decide how much Perry and her co-defendants owe Marcus Gray and his co-authors. Given the fact that the song was at the top of the charts for 4 weeks when it was released, it could be a substantial amount of money.
Of course, you’ll want to hear the comparison for yourself. First up, here is “Joyful Noise” by Flame aka Marcus Gray:
And here’s Perry’s video for “Dark Horse.”
Do I hear it? Not at first really. But on a second listen it started to become clearer. Ignore Perry’s singing, which is a unique melody and just listen to the bass and the finger snaps. It really does start to sound suspiciously similar, though the tempo is a bit slower on Perry’s track. If you’re still having trouble, this mashup adjusts the tempos to match and makes it clear just how similar:
Anyway, it’s not very often that a big star like Perry loses a case like this. I’m sure she can absorb the financial hit but this certainly looks bad for her operation. In music, as in writing, the uncredited taking of someone else’s original material is about the worst thing you can do.