Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ was copyright infringement, according to an LA jury

Katy Perry is seen leaving court after being sued over her song "Dark Horse"

A few weeks ago, Katy Perry was in court in Los Angeles because she had to testify about an alleged copyright infringement. As it turns out, Katy was being sued by Christian rapper Marcus Gray (aka Flame), who claimed Katy copied parts of his song “Joyful Noise” with her Dr. Luke-produced song “Dark Horse.” I remember when “Dark Horse” came out and it sounded different than most of Katy’s songs at the time, but it never occurred to me that she had lifted the beat from Flame. Well, the trial lasted a week and… Katy Perry is guilty of copyright infringement, according to a jury.

After a weeklong trial, a California jury has concluded that Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” is a copyright infringement. The lawsuit was brought by Christian rapper Marcus Gray, professionally known as Flame, who asserted that Perry’s 2013 hit tread on his own work titled “Joyful Noise.” In particular, the plaintiff alleged that the Dr. Luke-produced song took his underlying beat.

At trial, both Perry and Luke insisted they had never heard of “Joyful Noise,” while Gray pointed to his song’s success in a niche market. He offered the theory that the defendants may have heard it at the Grammy Awards or seen it on YouTube or MySpace, where the song was played millions of times. The defendants also attempted to knock the plaintiff’s ownership of infringing material by pointing to how the beat was allegedly preexisting material. Finally, Perry and Luke called experts to the witness stand in an effort to show a lack of any substantial similarity of protected expression. The trial had colorful moments, from Perry offering to perform her hit live amid difficulties with the courtroom sound system, to a shooting that took place just outside the courthouse on the day Dr. Luke testified.

Most copyright cases either settle or are dismissed before ever getting to trial, but “Dark Horse” joined “Blurred Lines” and “Stairway to Heaven” as songcraft that’s been put to a jury this decade. Jurors began deliberating after closing arguments Thursday, and returned their decision Monday afternoon. The verdict means the case will proceed to a damages phase, which will begin Tuesday. Still pending is a motion from Perry’s lawyers on Thursday asking U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder to rule that no reasonable jury could find copyright infringement based on the evidence presented at trial.

[From The Hollywood Reporter]

I’m including the separate songs below, plus a YouTube-user-made video comparing the songs side-by-side. To me, it feels like the “Blurred Lines” infringement was a lot clearer. I also remember another case where Tom Petty’s people (when Petty was still alive) went to Sam Smith privately and told Smith that they thought “Stay With Me” sounded a lot like “Won’t Back Down.” Smith and Petty worked out everything out of court, and Petty even has songwriting credit for “Stay With Me” now. My point is that I wonder if Flame went to Katy’s people and tried to work this stuff out privately, or whether he filed the lawsuit first.

Katy Perry is seen leaving court after being sued over her song "Dark Horse"

Photos courtesy of Backgrid.

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39 Responses to “Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ was copyright infringement, according to an LA jury”

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  1. Kat says:

    I don’t know 🤷🏻‍♀️, but I love her suit. When I listen to the video of the songs together they sound similar but not so much alike that I would think of them together.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      I just don’t know if a jury trial is the best place for these cases. I don’t think a jury of random people is going have the ability to understand what they are deciding. These sound kind of similar, but not identical or mostly identical but sped up/slowed down.

      If it’s his drum loop/sample they supposedly took, shouldn’t they be identical?

  2. Millennial says:

    I can hear it, but it’s a stretch for me. And I’d never guess Stay With Me sounded like Won’t Back Down. Fundamentally different songs in my book.

    If I were on a jury I’d really need the lawyers to explain to me the concrete rules around just how alike things can sound. Because unless it was like Vanilla Ice and The Rolling Stones song I’d just not hear it. I think there’s no concrete rules, though?

    • Enny says:

      I think you mean David Bowie, not the Stones. One of the single funniest moments in courtroom history, Vanilla Ice trying to explain away that very egregious infringement (Ice, Ice Baby and Under Pressure). Seriously, you should take a listen – way better than either song. 😉

    • Croatian says:

      I *think* I read somewhere (for the Blurred lines case) the jury got the music sheet for the songs, and then compared it. That’s complete nonsense to me, because when you hear the songs, they are waaaay more similar than the jury could say from the sheet, because electronic beats are very difficult to thoroughly show in the score.
      I could be completely wrong, though, and I could have imagined that article! 😀

  3. Enny says:

    They are very similar – more so than Stay With Me and Won’t Back Down. Not sure what Perry and Luke are thinking trying to deny it.
    Lawyer who would have advised these idiots very differently

  4. Bri W. says:

    I can hear it plus they even lifted part of the lyrics in the beginning (The y’all know what it is). Pay him lol.

    I love her suit.

    • rosamund12 says:

      That’s the part that struck me too. Otherwise I would have considered it a stretch. Music is so subjective, plus there really are limited materials these producers/songwriters are working with, so it is dead easy to find common ground among all the flood of music on the airwaves. What distinguishes them one from the other is often something as subtle as a meter change, or different instrumentation… I always imagine a scenario where the defence brings in 4 or 5 other songs that utilize the same devices to prove how common they are– and shooting themselves in the foot when a bunch of other people start suing!

    • Sarah B says:

      Also the random chopped and screwed drop 1/3 of the way through both of them.

  5. Lucy2 says:

    There are definitely similarities, but I don’t know if it’s enough for a violation verdict.

    “Dr. Luke” is a scumbag though so I wouldn’t put it above him to steal.

    • PointingScreaming says:

      We can hear they are similar, tho assuming proceedings were more of a deep dive. I’m always happy when the Goliath comes down, and the lesser known artists prevail.

  6. Croatian says:

    And now I listened to the songs and yeah, case closed, they STOLE.

  7. Sassbr says:

    I mean, let’s face it, Katy Perry doesn’t write her own music too much anymore. She’s like Beyoncé or Grande at this point, she sits in a room with producers who show her beats and propose lyrics and ish. Dr. Like reuses a LOT of beats from other people and reuses sounds for multiple artists-Katy Perry’s Birthday and Maroon 5’s Sugar are both from Dr. Luke and basically identical. Katy Perry’s Roar is EXACTLY EXACTLY Sara Bareillis’ Brave (like the intro piano and percussion is identical, I can’t believe that chick doesn’t sue) and they came out around the same time from different parent companies-Sony and Universal-but brave was written by Bareillis and Jack Antonoff, who also has written for artists under Universal, who houses Perry. Dr. Luke also produced Katy Perry’s TGIF that shared the same guitar as Jessie J’s Domino, which he also produced. At some point, does reusing the same beats and riffs make you a hack or is it considered a signature? It does sound kind of hacky if all your artists are coming out with songs that all sound similar at the same time.

    • Deedee says:

      It would depend on whether you acknowledge their contribution to the song. If Perry had invited Flame to collaborate on her song, it might’ve been a better song with more exposure for both artists.

      • Sassbr says:

        Katy Perry doesn’t need the exposure though and I don’t think she would collab with a Christian artist-that would alienate some of her fans. But I don’t even think she knew the beat was a rip off-I think they played her something and she was like “yes, good, let’s do that.” I think Dr. Luke ripped it off.

  8. Erinn says:

    I’m just here LOLing at that christian rap song. Those are some very simple lines – rhyming “chair” with “chair” and then “theirs”. “I’m pretty straight forwaaard when I’m speaking bout my Larrrdd”

    They’re definitely similar though. And it’s not like Katy is some masterful lyricist, but boy it would suck to have to lose to this song. It sounded more like parody than it did a serious attempt at a song.

    • Meghan says:

      I’m laughing at the “perhaps you heard it on MySpace?” It’s just so out of the blue! But I know a lot of artists got their start on MySpace.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      I think Hank Hill’s quote applies here, edited just a bit.

      You’re not making Christianity any better, you’re just making rap worse.

  9. Billbop says:

    Funny, Dark Horse is the only Katy Perry song I like!

  10. Dal says:

    Lol. the two together sound better then originals !remix!!

  11. KL says:

    Random aside: Flame was on an episode of one of the Duggar shows when Jessa’s husband wanted to be a rapper. No no – it was WORSE than it sounds.

    Just saying – he might be a little thirsty.

    • me says:

      Haha – I’ve been sitting here all morning, soaking in the embarrassment of apparently being the only one who knew he’d been on a Duggar show episode. Thanks for making me feel less alone! 🙂

    • MC2 says:

      One of the Duggars wanted to be a rapper???? Hahahahahahahahaha…..breath….hahahahaha

  12. Lala11_7 says:

    “Stairway To Heaven” is the one that will ALWAYS slay me…Led Zeppelin LITERALLY stole the music from Spirit’s “Taurus”…note for note….even stole the BREAKS…the ONLY thing missing is the harpsichord….I can’t….

    • Xi Tang says:

      Stairway To Heaven is probably my all time favourite song. I was devastated when I found out it’s a COPY of Spirit’s Taurus. I’m not exaggerating lol

      • Lala11_7 says:

        Spirit is one of my FAVORITE groups from the 60s/70s…their song “Nature’s Way”…MY LAWD!!!! The ONLY reason this lawsuit has taken so long is due to the stature that Led Zeppelin has….I gotta tell you…I lost A LOT of respect for them because of this….

      • Xi Tang says:

        @LALA thanks to LZ, Spirit have become one of my favourite bands as well. Could never look the same at LZ.

  13. My3cents says:

    Well a least she’s looking really good with her summery suit. I don’t remember liking any look of hers for a long time.
    Would a pink suit have been too much? Now that would have been epic…

  14. Case says:

    It does sound VERY similar. That said, I always take issue with these cases, because at some point, of course certain songs, particularly within the same genre, will sound the same. How many chord progressions can there possibly be?

  15. Digital Unicorn says:

    They sound similar but am not sure similar enough to be a case of infringement. Is Flame going to sue everyone that uses a variation of that underlying beat? Because that’s what Dark Horse sounds like to me, a variation of the beat and not a direct copy.

    Dark Horse was a big hit for Perry and Flame stands to make a quite a nice sum of money off the case.

  16. boz says:

    Total rip off. It’s not just the notes and beats, it’s in the structure of the songs as well. Not sure this is on Perry, as I doubt she comes up with the music for any of her songs. Likely, it’s Dr Luke. But her name is on it, and the buck stops with her. Still, gotta admit though, Dark Horse is my favorite KP song.

  17. Alina says:

    Ever since she stole that convent from a group of nuns, her career has bombed and now this. The karma fairy must not like it when rich pop stars steal from nuns. Just sayin…

  18. Yes Doubtful says:

    I hear a little similarity in the beginning, but that’s about it.