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Judge reverses Katy Perry $2.8M ‘Dark Horse’ plagiarism verdict

Katy Perry's 'Dark Horse' (ft. Juicy J)

Seven months after a jury deemed Katy Perry guilty of improperly copying a 2008 Christian rap song with her 2013 hit, Dark Horse, a federal judge in Los Angeles has overturned that verdict.

Reversing one of the music industry’s most controversial plagiarism cases, Judge Christina A. Snyder handed the now-pregnant pop icon a victory on Tuesday and found that Marcus Gray‘s Joyful Noise was not distinctive enough to be protected by copyright, despite what the jury decided last July, as reported to the Associated Press.

The Christian musician, known professionally as “Flame,” filed a lawsuit against Perry, 35, back in 2014, accusing her of using instrumental elements from his original — and underground — song without permission.

“It is undisputed in this case, even viewing the evidence in the light most favourable to plaintiffs, that the signature elements of the eight-note ostinato in Joyful Noise is not a particularly unique or rare combination,” Snyder wrote in her decision, according to court documents obtained by the Hollywood Reporter.

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In the legal dispute, Gray, 38, targeted not only Perry, but her team as well, including co-songwriters: CirkutDr. LukeMax MartinSarah Hudson and American rapper Juicy J, who is also featured on Dark Horse.

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Last August, the jury awarded Gray and his co-writers US$2.78 million from Perry and those songwriting partners, however, the verdict has since been reversed, meaning they no longer have to pay up.

During her testimony last July, Perry claimed that before the lawsuit came about, she had heard of neither Joyful Noise or Gray.

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Perry’s own lawyer, Christine Lepera, backed her up by saying that the musical elements used in Dark Horse are so simple that it would affect the majority of songwriters.

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“They’re trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone,” Lepera claimed to the jury during her closing arguments on July 18.

Their musical expert even claimed that the Dark Horse beat was almost as simple as the centuries-old children’s nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb, and was simply not distinctive enough to hold rights to copyright protection.

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Perry’s win comes more than a week after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Calif., found — for the second time — that the iconic opening of Led Zeppelin’s 1971 rock anthem Stairway to Heaven was not plagiarized from that of Spirit’s instrumental prog song, Taurus (1968).

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The verdict came six years after the estate of late Spirit frontman Randy Wolfe — run by trustee Michael Skidmoreignited the copyright infringement lawsuit in 2014.

Led Zeppelin was first deemed not guilty of plagiarism in 2016; however, the jury’s decision was overturned in October 2018, when members of the 9th Circuit panel ruled that the case’s previous judge had provided “erroneous instruction” to the jury. This prompted a retrial in 2019.

(L-R) Robert Plant and Jimmy Page attend a press conference to announce Led Zeppelin’s new live DVD, Celebration Day, on Sept. 21, 2012 in London, England. Dave J Hogan / Getty Images

Nine months after the British rock band appealed said retrial, it was officially decided, on March 9, that they were not guilty of plagiarism.

Judge Snyder’s Dark Horse decision comes a week after the conclusion of Led Zeppelin’s lengthy legal battle. The win was used as part of Perry’s appeal to the L.A. court; ultimately prompting Snyder to overturn the jury’s 2019 verdict, according to Law360.

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Gray and his team plan to appeal the court’s recent verdict, according to AP.

“We believe the jury was right and will do our best to restore their verdict on appeal,” the musician’s attorney, Michael A. Kahn, wrote in an email to the outlet on Wednesday.

Katy Perry visits the SiriusXM Studios on Aug. 7, 2019 in Los Angeles, Calif. Michael Kovac/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Lepera did not immediately respond to AP’s e-mail seeking comment on the overturned verdict.

As of this writing, the music video for Dark Horse currently holds more than 2.7 billion views on YouTube alone, as opposed to Joyful Noise’s 4.5 million.

— With files from the Associated Press

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adam.wallis@globalnews.ca

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