On Thursday, August 1, a six-member federal jury in LA ruled that Katy Perry was guilty of copying a Christian rap song, “Joyful Noise” by Flame, in the 2013 hit “Dark Horse”. As punishment, Katy Perry and her collaborators — Perry, co-writer Sarah Hudson, Capitol Records, and producers Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Cirkut — must pay a hefty $2.78 million dollars to Flame and his co-writers, with Perry shouldering $500,000 of that amount. The lawsuit traces back to 2014, when Marcus Gray (Flame), Emanuel Lambert, and Chike Ojukwu, asserted that Perry took the same hook. This imputation only recently went to trial at the end of July, a rarity despite the 5 years it took since instances like this are few and far between.
However, this court case is galvanizing to the media not just for the shocking monetary penalty, but for the contrasting opinions between what music professionals say and what the law decrees. While “Dark Horse” may seem like a blatant copy of “Joyful Noise” from a cursory listen, others have stepped forward to reveal the subtle and significant distinctions between them.
Charlie Harding from a music-related Vox Podcast conceded that both “use derivative descending minor scales in a basic rhythm” and “staccato downbeat rhythms on a high voiced synthesizer which is common in many trap beats.” However, the songs are in different keys and BPMs (beats per minute), with melodies that have different notes although they share common sounds. Explaining why the similarities should “be free to use by both artists,” he also referred to the basic foundations of pop that these two songs — and many others — are made from, saying, “[no] one should be able to own these core building blocks for the good of all past, present and future art.”
Critics abjure the jury’s decision because of its lack of substantial proof — judging by the number of musical experts who disagree — as well as the faulty precedent it sets for the future of the music industry. For instance, one could declare that “Dark Horse” and “Joyful Noise” bear a resemblance to a 1983 song “Moments in Love” by Art of Noise, without taking into account its age, technical components, and other factors.
Adam Neely’s recent video “Why the Katy Perry/Flame lawsuit makes no sense” breaks down the composition of both songs in an analytical sense. He also compares both songs to a Christmas carol, a Bach adagio, and more completely unrelated pieces, demonstrating the dangerous ideology of Perry’s court case and how it overlooks the similarities that exist across all genres of music.
Additionally, Neely explicated the original lawsuit and didn’t notice any “mention of any specific musical elements,” but rather “several pages of alleged damages and […] complaints about witchcraft,” which all seem irrelevant to the songs themselves. Professor Todd Decker was the only source of musical theory the case consulted, making various observations about the songs despite not being qualified as a sound engineer. According to Neely, Decker erred frequently in his assessment, such as failing to notice timbre discrepancies that are “quite distinct.”
Overall, with technical jargon and thorough explanations, Neely posed a compelling argument against the legitimacy of the court’s verdict. As indicated by the Trending status of his video and the flood of mocking remarks, many people seem to agree.
While there are outliers who do believe in Perry’s guilt, a majority of viewers and professionals seem to align with Harding and Neely’s opinion. However, this court case definitely has the potential to influence the music industry in drastic ways, and it may have opened a gateway for more artists to pop up and claim that a certain superstar plagiarized their music.
Featured image via Katy Perry’s YouTube