Katy Perry’s song “Dark Horse,” featuring rapper Juicy J, was her ninth number one single in the U.S., and the second-biggest-selling single worldwide in 2014. The song was nominated for a Grammy award and racked up 2.6 billion times on YouTube.
‘”Joyful Noise,” released by Christian rapper Marcus Gray, a.k.a. Flame, in 2009 also had millions of plays on YouTube and Spotify, and an album on which it was included was also nominated for a Grammy.
It’s possible Perry, and her five co-writers and producers, never heard “Joyful Noise” before writing and recording “Dark Horse.” But that didn’t stop a Los Angeles jury from determining that Perry’s song improperly stole elements of Gray’s, and finding her, Capitol Records, and producers Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Cirkut liable for copyright infringement.
Song by Song, Note by Note
Gray’s attorneys successfully argued that the beat and instrumental line featured in “Dark Horse” were substantially similar to those of “Joyful Noise,” a song Gray co-wrote with Emanuel Lambert and Chike Ojukwu. “They’re trying to shove Mr. Gray into some gospel music alleyway that no one ever visits,” their attorney Michael A. Kahn argued, countering Perry and her co-defendants claims to never have encountered Gray or his music.
But the source of both songs may have been even more elemental, as music experts called by Perry’s lawyers testified during trial. One even said the musical patterns in dispute were as simple as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” (Vox and music site Musicologize also pointed to a 1983 track, “Moments in Love” by Art of Noise, that contains substantially similar aspects.)
“They’re trying to own basic building blocks of music,” Perry’s lawyer Christine Lepera unsuccessfully argued during closing arguments, “the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone.”
Side by Side
Now that the jury has found Perry and her team liable for copyright infringement, they will move on to determining what, if any, damages they will have to pay to Gray. In the meantime, you can check out and compare both songs for yourself: