In 2019, a jury ruled that Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” lifted elements from “Joyful Noise,” a 2008 song by Christian rapper Flame (real name Marcus Gray). The jury also ruled that Perry and her collaborators must pay $2.78 million in damages to Gray and his co-writers, with Perry personally responsible for $550,000 of the payout. Perry has since appealed that decision, and now, she has won.
In a new decision, US District Judge Christina A. Snyder ruled that none of the individual parts of the ostinato (an eight-note musical phrase) that Perry allegedly copied are “independently protectable” under copyright law.
Snyder wrote in her decision, “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. [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.”
Christine Lepera, a lawyer for Perry, said 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. 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.”
Meanwhile, Gray plans to appeal the new ruling. His lawyer, Michael. A. Kahn, said, “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.”