By MacKenzie Milam

Law student at West Virginia University College of Law, Millam is part of Dunlap, Bennett & Ludwig Summer Internship Program and holds a strong interest in Intellectual Property Law.

[08.07.2019 Leesburg] While Katy Perry is well-known as a pop artist, it was a Christian rap song entitled “Joyful Noise” that became its own “dark horse” to pull out the winning verdict in a copyright suit. The verdict, which was handed down by the jury on July 29, came after seven days of testimony and arguments regarding this alleged similarity.

Christian rap artists Marcus Gray (a.k.a. “Flame”), Emanuel Lambert (a.k.a. “D.A. Truth”) and Chike Ojukwu alleged that certain beats in Katy Perry’s hit single “Dark Horse” were substantially similar to those in their “Joyful Noise.” Unlike other intellectual property disputes, which require some sort of actual knowledge, the “Joyful Noise” performers only had to show that the “Dark Horse” writers and producers could have listened to “Joyful Noise” before using the similar beats. The rappers pointed to their streaming totals and Grammy nomination for “Joyful Noise” to prove that possibility existed. The rappers’ attorney even stated that he had been approached after “Dark Horse” was released and questioned about whether he had sold the rights to the music to the pop star.

Testifying on behalf of the rappers, professional musician and musicologist Todd Decker compared an eight-note ostinato in both songs and found the repeating phrase to be substantially similar on the basis of the songs’ rhythm, melody, notes, and overall combination.

Perry testified that she had never heard of Gray or the other plaintiffs, nor had she heard the song “Joyful Noise” until the beginning of this lawsuit. However, Gray’s attorney said there is enough circumstantial evidence to show that Perry’s songwriters might have heard “Joyful Noise” before writing “Dark Horse,” but they made it clear that they aren’t accusing anyone of intentionally copying the song.
Perry’s attorney argued that the repeating phrase at issue is “common musical building blocks” that cannot be monopolized. Furthermore, Perry’s attorney argued the validity of the plaintiffs’ copyright registration based on the fact that it was filed at least five years after the publication of “Joyful Noise.”

The jury is expected to determine damages owed by Katy Perry’s team this week. The damages owed will be determined out of the $41 million Perry made from the song since its release.

Posted in: Copyright, Intellectual Property