Fed jury finds Katy Perry guilty of copying Christian rap tune in her mega-hit ‘Dark Horse’

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Pop star Katy Perry lost a legal battle over a hit song that allegedly copied a Christian rap number that predated it.

A nine-member federal jury in a Los Angeles delivered the verdict on Monday, deciding that Perry’s 2013 hit “Dark Horse” copied a 2009 Christian rap song called “Joyful Noise,” according to Associated Press.

(Video: YouTube)

The lawsuit ends a five-year pursuit by Marcus Gray and two co-authors, Emanuel Lambert and Chike Ojukwu, who alleged that Perry’s song, the third single from her 2013 album “Prism,” was improperly copied from “Joyful Noise,” the song Gray released under the stage name Flame.

While Gray’s attorneys argued that “Dark Horse” had a very similar instrumental line and beat to that of the rap song, Perry’s defense contended that the musical elements were just the “building blocks” that songwriters and musicians all are free to use.

(Video: YouTube)

“They’re trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone,” Christine Lepera, Perry’s lawyer, said during closing arguments last week.

Perry’s song, which she performed during her 2015 Super Bowl halftime show, earned her a Grammy nomination and spent four weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 2014. But the singer, her producer Dr. Luke and the song’s co-authors testified that they had never heard of Gray or his song before the lawsuit.

But “Joyful Noise” had millions of plays on YouTube and music streaming platforms and was included on an album that was nominated for a Grammy, as Gray’s attorneys contended.  Perry or her co-authors could have been exposed to the song in many ways, attorney Michael A. Kahn argued and noted that the 34-year-old Perry began her musical career as a gospel music singer.

“They’re trying to shove Mr. Gray into some gospel music alleyway that no one ever visits,” Kahn said during closing arguments which included the songs being played back-to-back.

Associated Press reported:

Questions from the jury during their two full days of deliberations had suggested that they might find only some of the defendants liable for copyright infringement. The case focused on the notes and beats of the song, not its lyrics or recording, and the questions suggested that Perry might be off the hook.

But 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. Perry was not present when the verdict was read.

A brief moment during the second day of proceedings lightened the atmosphere as technical troubles challenged the playback of  “Dark Horse” in the courtroom.

“I could perform it live,” Perry, who was in attendance to testify, quipped, causing laughter in the courtroom.

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The seven-day trial culminated with the verdict on Monday by the jury of six women and three men and now moves into determining how much is owed to Gray and his co-authors for copyright infringement.

Frieda Powers

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