Katy Perry to pay $750,000 in copyright case

Katy Perry.

LOS ANGELES • In the latest high-profile copyright ruling to rock the music industry, an American gospel rapper whose song was partially copied by singer Katy Perry was awarded US$2.7 million in damages by a federal jury on Thursday.

Perry was ordered to pay just more than US$550,000 (S$750,000) to Marcus Gray - who performs as Flame - after the jury found that a beat used in her 2013 song, Dark Horse, constituted copyright infringement.

The ruling followed a week-long trial in Los Angeles, in which Perry took the witness stand and said she had never heard of Gray's 2009 rap Joyful Noise.

Perry's representatives immediately vowed to appeal if the case is not dismissed pending a defence motion.

"The writers of Dark Horse consider this a travesty of justice," attorney Christine Lepera said.

Gray's lawyers had argued for a far higher penalty of about US$20 million.

"These defendants made millions of dollars from their infringement of the plaintiffs' song," attorney Michael Kahn told the court.

During the trial, Perry's lawyers said the two songs' underlying beat was commonplace and therefore cannot be copyrighted.

But Gray's lawyers said the defendants had "copied an important part" of his song, referring to a 16-second instrumental section.

Perry's label Capitol Records was ordered to pay US$1.2 million of the damages. Her producers will also pay towards the sum.

Perry performed a version of Dark Horse at the 2015 Super Bowl, while Joyful Noise has been viewed more than three million times on YouTube.

Gray's team first brought the litigation against Perry in 2014.

The number of copyright lawsuits has been proliferating in recent years in the United States.

The case follows a long-running copyright dispute by the family of Motown legend Marvin Gaye, who won a nearly US$5-million judgment against singer-songwriters Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams.

Thicke and Williams were accused by Gaye's estate of copyright infringement for their 2013 hit because of similarities with the late singer's Got To Give It Up.

The initial judgment against Thicke and Williams sent shockwaves through the songwriting community, which has been accustomed to lawsuits alleging musical similarities, but never expected courts to take such claims seriously.

British rock group Led Zeppelin are facing another trial over claims they copied part of Stairway To Heaven after a US appeals court last year overturned a 2016 judgment.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2019, with the headline 'Katy Perry to pay $750,000 in copyright case'. Subscribe