Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ Case and Its Chilling Effect on Songwriting

August 6, 2019Media Mention

When you hear the six-note passage at the center of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” played alongside the one from the 2008 song “Joyful Noise” by Christian rapper Flame, it’s natural to assume that the melodies are nearly identical.

It’s a starkly simple phrase, six descending notes that a marginally talented toddler could bang out on a toy xylophone. And yet, despite the courtroom arguments of musicologists who cited two songs predating “Joyful Noise” that employed a similar melody; of attorneys who claimed it is so simple as to be uncopyrightable; of experts who said that Perry’s fame contributed as much, if not more, to the song’s success; and not least, the testimony by the “Dark Horse” songwriters that they’d never heard the earlier song; a jury found last week thatPerry and her co-writers and producers had infringed upon the copyright of “Joyful Noise,” resulting in a $2.78 million windfall for Flame, also known as Marcus Gray, and his co-writer.

Music attorney William Hochberg agrees. “Since ‘Blurred Lines,’ there’s been an epidemic of these cases — I turn them away frequently,” he says. “All kinds of people are coming out of the woodwork: ‘Hey, I’ve got a song with a breakbeat, and so does that song in the Top 10!’”