In an amazing turn of events federal judge Christina A. Snyder has granted Katy Perry a major win, overturning a copyright infringement verdict regarding her hit song “Dark Horse.”
It’s 2014 and pop music, neon colors, colorful hair and stunner shades are everywhere. You turn on your radio, or your television (it’s old school, I know) and you hear the melodically rich 8-note combination that you immediately associate with Katy Perry’s quirky sound. Well, what you may not have known was that the pop star was sued by the Christian rapper Flame (real name Marcus Gray), who claimed Perry and others copied this melody (known as an ostinato) from his song “Joyful Noise.” Last July, a jury sympathized with Flame and awarded him $2.8 million in damages.
Fast forward six years to 2020 and US district judge Snyder finds that the jury’s verdict was not supported by the weight of the evidence in the case. In her decision, she asserts that that sequence of notes was “not a particularly unique or rare combination”.
Let’s just say things got real in court as Snyder called upon the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness, musicologist Todd Decker, in coming to her conclusion that the prior jury came to an invalid conclusion.
The decision in favor of Perry follows a trail of major court victories we’ve witnessed for artists within the past few months. First Megan Thee Stallion is granted a temporary restraining order against 1501 Certified Entertainment so we could all enjoy the sweet sounds of her latest album Suga. Then, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2016 decision that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” did not infringe on the band Spirit’s 1968 instrumental track, “Taurus.” It can be assumed that these hearings potentially symbolize a change in how these cases will be tried and judged. The courts have had a long-standing copyright precedent regarding the extent to which access to a song can be used to prove infringement or plagiarism, and the degree to which artists are allowed artistic control over their creative property; today a new leaf seems to be turned.
However, before we pop the champagne in celebration, Flame will still be able to appeal Snyder’s ruling to the 9th Circuit.