In a unanimous ruling that the Associated Press reports many people in the courtroom found “surprising,” a nine-member jury concluded on Monday that Katy Perry’s 2013 Grammy-winning song “Dark Horse” — which reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 2014 — improperly copied a Christian rap song produced four years earlier.
Marcus Gray and two co-authors, Emanuel Lambert and Chike Ojukwu, first filed a complaint against Perry in 2014 alleging that “Dark Horse” borrowed substantially from the Christian rap song “Joyful Noise,” which Gray released in 2009 under his stage name “Flame.” In a Los Angeles courtroom Monday, the jury ruled unanimously in Gray’s favor.
The jury had signaled during its two days of deliberations that it might only find the defendants partly liable for copyright infringement, asking questions focused on “the notes and beats of the song, not its lyrics or recording,” AP notes. The jury’s questions also pointed to Perry personally avoiding any liability.
“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,” AP reports. Producers Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Cirkut were also found liable for their role in producing the beat of the song.
The jury agreed with the prosecution that almost half of Perry’s hit song featured both a beat and instrumental lines that were “substantially similar” to Gray’s rap song. Perry’s attorneys countered that the elements in question are too rudimentary to single out as copyright violations, and stressed that doing so will put other artists at risk.
In her closing arguments noted by AP, the singer’s lawyer stated, “They’re trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone.” The defense called a musical expert to testify to the simplicity of the musical patterns in the song.
But in the end, the arguments presented on behalf of Gray and his co-plaintiffs won the day. The jury determined that the beat and instrumental lines were complex and original enough to merit copyright protections.
“The case now goes to a penalty phase, where the jury will decide how much Perry and other defendants owe for copyright infringement,” AP reports.