Business News Legal Top Stories

Katy Perry and co ordered to pay $2.7 million to rapper they ripped off

By | Published on Friday 2 August 2019

Katy Perry, her label and her song-writing pals will have to shell out $2.7 million in damages to the rapper whose track – according to a US court – they ripped off. But Team Perry plan to fight both the infringement ruling and the resulting damages bill, with the star’s lawyer calling this week’s jury decisions “a travesty of justice”.

Earlier this week a jury concluded that Perry and her song-writing team subconsciously infringed the 2008 Christian rap track ‘Joyful Noise’ when writing her hit ‘Dark Horse’ in 2013, mainly by lifting a distinct six note musical phrase.

The artist behind ‘Joyful Noise’ – Marcus Gray aka Flame – sued Perry et al all the way back in 2014. When the dispute finally got to court it was decided to split the case into two phases, assessing the infringement claim first and then damages second.

For the damages phase the main debates were how profitable ‘Dark Horse’ had been and how important that lifted musical phase was in the track’s success. Needless to say, there were big disagreements between plaintiffs and defendants on both those points.

Everyone agreed that ‘Dark Horse’ was a big hit that generated tens of millions in revenue. But by far the biggest beneficiary of all that revenue, Universal label Capitol Records, insisted that when you factored in the mega-costs of making and promoting the track, and the album it appeared on, its profits were actually in the hundreds of thousands.

According to Law 360, Universal exec Steve Drellishak arrived in court with a big long list of all the costs the major had incurred along the way. Among those costs were the thousands and thousands the label spent on haircare and styling for the various public appearances Perry made to promote the record, including at the VMAs and on TV shows ‘Saturday Night Live’ and Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’.

“It’s an important part of Perry’s image,” Drellishak insisted, justifying the haircare and styling expenditure. “She always has to be in the most fashionable clothes and makeup. Those are core to the ‘Katy Perry’ brand”.

The Katy Perry brand came up during the other part of the debate too: ie just how crucial the six notes taken from ‘Joyful Noise’ were in making ‘Dark Horse’ such a big hit. Lawyers for the defence argued that the most important element in making a Katy Perry track a hit record is Katy Perry. Six notes – even when looped throughout half the track – were pretty inconsequential by comparison, they said.

Legal reps for Gray and his musical collaborators Emanuel Lambert and Chike Ojukwu argued otherwise, reckoning that the fact the short musical phrase looped so much – and was a pretty distinctive part of the catchy song – meant it had a key role in the record’s popularity. To that end, the legal reps argued, Gray’s team should receive 45% of the track’s profits. Attorneys for Perry reckoned 5% would be a fairer allocation of the cash.

The $2.7 million the jury ultimately handed Gray et al was less than what they wanted. But their lawyer, Michael Kahn, said after the damages ruling had been made: “We are quite pleased. I think this is a fair and just result”.

The damages bill will be shared out between Capitol, Perry and all the other songwriters and publishers involved in ‘Dark Horse’. Capitol faces the biggest bill at $1.2 million. Perry will have to hand over $550,000. Producers Dr Luke and Max Martin, songwriters Henry Walter and Sarah Hudson, and Warner and Kobalt will together make up the difference.

Except, of course, Team Perry plans to fight all this. Perry’s lawyer Christine Lepera told Law 360 that “the writers of ‘Dark Horse’ consider this a travesty of justice”. The defendants now plan to “vigorously fight” both the infringement ruling and the damages bill.

So, expect plenty more arguments about this case in the months ahead.