Katy Perry’s Dark Horse Copyright Infringement Case

August 15, 2019
Copyright Law

By Arushi Mehtani and Shubhankar Shashikant

The unprecedented utilization of technology in our day-to-day lives has made it relatively easy to copy a work or information and researchers are also of the view that many companies derive major part of their revenue from replicating what other companies have created. The rise of popular music appeared due to the development of recording technology, allowing everyday tunes to be recorded, and disrupting a long line of music tradition typically associated with the educated classes only.

The extent of what comprises infringement, in connection to musical works, has been expanded as the present technology facilitating diminishing of boundaries makes it relatively simple to duplicate data and creation of others.

It cannot be denied that music is one form of entertainment which has been infringed numerous times across all jurisdictions. One such recent case pertains to Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ copyright infringement case, which had a chilling effect on songwriters and it also initiated global trend towards protecting the rights of copyright owners from a holistic approach to the work.

Brief Facts of the case

In 2008, Marcus Gray, Emanuel Lambert and Chike Ojukwuy released the song “Joyful Noise,” which received a Grammy nomination for “Best Rap or Gospel Album” in 2008 and became moderately famous with 6 million “plays/views” online. And in 2013, Katy’s song “Dark Horse” won “The Song of the Year” award at the American Music Awards and the Best Female Video award at MTV’s Video Music Awards and accrued around 3 billion views on YouTube.

In 2014, Marcus Gray filed a copyright infringement suit claiming that “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry was based on his song “Joyful Noise”. The suit was based on an issue that in both the songs, a short beat is used repeatedly which shares identical length, rhythm, and pitch. Gray claiming copyright in his 5-year-old musical composition, said that Perry’s song Dark Horse copied the beat of his song.

Further, Plaintiff arguments relied on: –

  • That a highly specific portion of the song highlighting that “substantial similarity can be found in a combination of elements, even if those elements are individually unprotected” instead of focusing on specific part of the two songs.
  • Witness i.e. the musicologist who pointed specifically the fact that the songs themselves were very different overall but the beats, rhythm, pitch content, melodic contour, and timbre” were similar.

Whereas, the defendant contended that-

  • The song sections in question represent the kind of simple musical elements that if found to be subject to copyright would hurt music and all songwriters.
  • That the purported similarities between the two works were very ordinary and that the song was created independently

Based on the ground that the beat of Katy Perry’s hit song “Dark Horse” was similar to that of Marcus Gray’s song, “Joyful Noise”, Katy Perry was held liable of copyright infringement by US District Court of Central District California on July 29th, 2019.

In the instant case, the Jury focused on the notes and beats of the song, not its lyrics or recording and found Perry and her collaborators guilty of copying the song “Joyful Noise “and further awarded the Plaintiff with $2.7 million USD in damage with Perry responsible for $500,000 of that amount.


The object of copyright law in India is to grant protection to the creators of original works of authorship such as literary works, dramatic, musical, artistic works, cinematographic films and sound recordings. Copyright protection in India generally extends for the life time of the author and 60 years after that, but for performance rights, the performer has the economic rights for 50 years after the start of the year following the performance. Various amendments to the Copyright Act in 2012 has given better ownership control to songwriters, composers and musicians working in the Indian film industry. Though there is still a while to go for completely safeguarding the musician’s interest.

The present case showcases two unique parts of the spectrum on both the amount “copied” as well as access to original works that demonstrates that there is an expansive scope of works that could be considered infringing. Although, not many music cases have been effective in protecting against “fair use” concept however it is now even more obvious that the “substantial similarity” test can be moldable to fit a range of claims so broad that it may be unsuited for music in the coming times.

In Anand R.G, v/s M/ s. Delux Film, it was opinionated that where the same idea is being developed in a different manner, similarities are bound to occur. It was said that in such a case the Courts should determine whether the similarities are on fundamental or substantial aspects of the mode of expression. Further, in order to be actionable the copy must be a substantial and material one.

Further, Copyright protection varies from country to country, various alternatives for plan of action and various measures of protection. A basic song for example has three sections and the rights may or may not be with the same individual; for example in India-

  • The lyrics of the song can be protected as literary work and the owner of the copyright is the lyricist.
  • The music of the song can be protected as a musical work and the owner of the copyright is the composer
  • The song together with music and lyrics which is recorded can be protected as a sound recording and the owner of the copyright is the producer of the sound recording (the record label).

The registration is not compulsory but it serves as a prima facie evidence in a court of law at times when a dispute of Infringement arises relating to the owner of the copyright. This registration will act as important evidence so that the case will be in favor of the real owner.

Anything can be copyrighted not only music but even ideas, inventions etc. The significant aim of copyright is to prevent copying and provide the originator the absolute right over his idea or innovation.  Therefore, after Copyright Amendment Act of 2012, copyrights of music have become more effective. In India, when a person is committing a copyright infringement which is using the other person’s work or any other issues relating to copyright, it is considered to be a crime. The provisions made under Indian law show that the Copyright protection in India is strong and effective enough to take care of the Copyright of the concerned person. To meet the ever- increasing challenges, as posed by the changed circumstances and latest technology, it is required to amend the existing laws.

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