A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of Katy Perry in her copyright infringement case.
In 2014, Christian rapper Marcus Gray, AKA Flame, accused the pop star and her associates of plagiarizing his song "Joyful Noise," claiming she used an "ostinato," or a brief set of notes repeated throughout a song, in her single "Dark Horse."
Initially, Gray won the case in 2019 and was awarded $2.8 million. However, the ruling was overturned by Los Angeles Judge Christina Snyder in 2020, who said "the signature elements of the eight-note ostinato in 'Joyful Noise' is not a particularly unique or rare combination." According to Snyder, her decision was influenced by the then-recent "Stairway to Heaven" copyright verdict, which limited the scope of what could be considered copyright infringement.
In response, Gray brought the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where Snyder's decision was upheld in a 3-0 vote on Thursday.
"The portion of the ‘Joyful Noise’ ostinato that overlaps with the ‘Dark Horse’ ostinato consists of a manifestly conventional arrangement of musical building blocks,” the court wrote in their decision, adding that this level of copyright protections would stifle future songwriting.
The appeals court also wrote that the same two-note sequence appears in songs like "Merrily We Roll Along," meaning a ruling in favor of Gray would "essentially amount to allowing an improper monopoly over two-note pitch sequences or even the minor scale itself.”
Per Billboard, it is presumed that this latest ruling will finally put an end to the near decade-long case. Notably, this verdict will likely be cited by legal experts in future musical copyright suits, such as reggae band Artikal Sound System's current case against Dua Lipa in regards to her song "Levitating."
Additionally, the outlet also said that this win for "Dark Horse," alongside the "Stairway to Heaven" verdict, could be seen as a "counterbalance" to a ruling made in the Robin Thicke "Blurred Lines" case, which allowed copyright protections for more basic sonic elements.
Photo via Getty / Daniel Pockett
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