Katy Perry and ‘Dark Horse’ collaborators: Copyright trial verdict was “a travesty of justice”

They’ve been ordered to pay more than £2 million in damages

Katy Perry and her collaborators on the song ‘Dark Horse’ have slammed the verdict of their recent copyright trial, calling it a “travesty of justice” while maintaining that “there is no infringement”.

Last Monday (July 29), a jury found that Perry and her collaborators on the 2013 track had copied the underlying beat of a 2008 song, ‘Joyful Noise’ by Flame, the Christian rapper born Marcus Gray who sued Perry in 2014. The pop star, her collaborators and label have been ordered to pay £2.29 million ($2.78 million) in damages.

“The writers of ‘Dark Horse’ view the verdicts as a travesty of justice,” began a statement issued by Perry’s lawyer Christine Lepera on Friday (August 2). “There is no infringement,” it continued. “There was no access or substantial similarity.”

In the statement, Lepera asserted that “the only thing in common [between ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Joyful Noise’] is unprotectable expression – evenly spaced ‘C’ and ‘B’ notes – repeated. People including musicologists from all over are expressing their dismay over this.”

Musicologists were brought to the stand during the trial to testify for and against Perry and Gray. Per Billboard, Todd Decker, a professor and the chair of music at Washington University in St. Louis, concluded that ‘Dark Horse’ had “borrowed” the underlying beat of ‘Joyful Noise’ after listening, humming, singing along to and playing both songs at a piano. Decker also claimed the ostinatos – or repeating sequences of musical figures within a song – in the beats of both songs shared “five or six points of similarity”.

On the other hand, Lawrence Ferrara, musicologist and New York University professor, argued that ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Joyful Noise’ shared similar instrumental sequences to older songs like ‘Jolly Old St. Nicholas’ and ‘Merrily We Roll Along’.

“They’re trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone,” Lepera said in her closing arguments, AP reports.

The verdict has stoked debate and arguments online. Musicians, composers and musicologists alike have chimed in with their comparisons of ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Joyful Noise’. Others have also expressed their concern over the legal precedent this case would potentially set, citing a recent influential copyright case in which Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams lost to the Marvin Gaye estate over similarities between the former’s ‘Blurred Lines’ and the latter’s ‘Got to Give it Up’.

Charlie Harding, host of the pop music analysis podcast Switched on Pop, concurred with Lepera in an interview with Vox. Pointing out both songs’ use of descending minor scales in a basic rhythm, and the rhythms common to many trap beats, Harding said “[no] one should be able to own these core building blocks for the good of all past, present and future art”.

“Katy Perry got robbed by a musically ignorant jury,” Paul Croteau – a Texas-based composer who has created music for shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians and American Greed – said in an Instagram post.

He wrote, “Different key and tempo, different notes and DIFFERENT BEAT! Trap music is repetitive and in minor keys. The grooves are similar, yes. A copy? No.” In a separate post, he pointed out the differences between the kick drums and musical themes of both songs. See them below: