LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal jury in Los Angeles awarded $2.7 million in damages to Christian rap artists Thursday after finding this week that pop star Katy Perry and her creative team copied the instrumental beat from their song “Joyful Noise” for her hit “Dark Horse.”
The nine-member civil jury found Perry, 34, and her team improperly copied an ostinato – a repetitive musical rhythm – from “Joyful Noise” for her 2013 hit.
Jurors also determined “Joyful Noise” was widely disseminated in the music world and that Perry – born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson – failed to show she independently crafted her track without influence from the gospel song.
After closing arguments in the damages phase of the two-week trial, the jury determined Thursday that $2.7 million is fair compensation for gospel artist Marcus Gray, also known as Flame, and “Joyful Noise” co-creators Emanuel Lambert and Chike Ojukwu.
Perry – who testified during the first day of trial and was not in the courtroom for the verdict – was found personally liable for $550,000 in damages.
Both parties stipulated that Perry earned $2.4 million in profits after expenses for her role in creating “Dark Horse.”
Capitol Records, which spent nearly $11 million promoting and producing “Dark Horse” according to defense attorneys, will pay $1.2 million in damages. The remaining defendants, record labels Universal Music Group and Kobalt and songwriter Sarah Hudson - owe $950,000.
Outside the courtroom, Gray’s attorney Michael Kahn of the law firm Capes Sokol told Courthouse News that the gospel artists were pleased with the verdict.
“Our clients filed this lawsuit seeking justice for what had been taken without permission,” Kahn said. “They’re pleased and gratified to have finally received that justice from a jury of their peers.”
In closing arguments Thursday, Kahn said that the gospel rap beat became a critical element of Perry’s song.
“If you go back to the origins, there is no ‘Dark Horse’ without ‘Joyful Noise,’” said Kahn. “The beat became a building block for [Perry’s] entire song.”
Kahn told jurors the gospel artists were entitled to nearly $20 million in damages, or half of the $41 million “Dark Horse” earned in gross revenue.
Because the “Joyful Noise” beat featured for 45% – 95 seconds – of Perry’s song, a fair award would be 45% of the gross revenue earned by “Dark Horse” producers and distributors, Kahn told jurors.
But even with the damages awarded Thursday, Perry’s team will keep more than half of all profits it made before trial and 100% of earnings after the trial, Kahn said.
Perry’s attorney Christine Lepera of the firm Mitchell Silberberg told reporters outside the courtroom that the verdict would be “vigorously” challenged on appeal.
“We intend to vigorously fight this at the appropriate levels,” Lepera said. “The only matter in common is an unprotectable ‘C’ and ‘B’ note repeated.”
Lepera said that after Monday’s verdict, her firm has “been receiving outcry from persons all over the world, including musicologists.”
Aaron Wais, an attorney for Perry and her co-defendants, told jurors Thursday the gospel artists were simply trying to obtain as much money as they could.
“They are discounting the efforts of artists and songwriters to make ‘Dark Horse’ what it is,” Wais said. “You cannot use the Copyright Act to punish.”
In an interview, University of Southern California professor Jef Pearlman said whether the jury’s verdicts this week show a new “trend in enforcement” in music copyright infringement cases will depend on posttrial briefs and appellate action.
U.S District Judge Christina Snyder – whose denial of summary judgment in August 2018 opened the path for the jury trial – could revisit the question of copyrightability of the ostinato, Pearlman said. He noted the judge could also rule on whether there is enough evidence to support the jury’s verdict.
If the verdict is upheld, and smaller artists begin “going on fishing expeditions to find a big hit that sounds like your small hit,” that could spell trouble for more popular artists, Pearlman said.
But if Perry’s team didn’t intentionally copy the “Joyful Noise” beat, Pearlman said it’s unclear how they could’ve changed their behavior.
“Under copyright law, it’s easier to avoid taking something than it is to accidentally copy something that already exists,” Pearlman said.
At the opening of the trial in Los Angeles, Perry denied lifting the beat and told the jury that she never heard of the gospel rap artists or their music.
Perry earned a Grammy nomination for “Dark Horse” and performed the track during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2015.
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