Jurors found that Katy Perry's Dark Horse "improperly copied" an earlier song titled Joyful Noise by Flame, a Christian rap artist.
The case focused on the notes and beats of the song, not its lyrics or recording, and the questions suggested that Perry might be off the hook.
But in a decision that left many in the courtroom surprised, jurors found all six songwriters and all four corporations that released and distributed the songs were liable, including Perry and Sarah Hudson, who wrote only the song’s words, and Juicy J, who only wrote the rap he provided for the song. ...
Gray’s attorneys argued that the beat and instrumental line featured through nearly half of “Dark Horse” are substantially similar to those of “Joyful Noise.” Gray wrote the song with his co-plaintiffs Emanuel Lambert and Chike Ojukwu.
Here's Joyful Noise:
Here's Dark Horse. The infringement begins 18 seconds in.
Though the distinctive, whining 8-note loop was the matter at hand, jurors found all involved in the song to be infringers, irrespective of their role in its production. You might say they did the RICO.
It surely can't have helped Perry that both songs start with a guy shouting "y'all know what this is". Even if it didn't factor into the legal analysis, her song is showing up to court unshaven, without a necktie, and smirking at the judge.
It's nonetheless a a disturbing outcome, writes Vox.
But Charlie Harding of the Vox podcast Switched on Pop explains that the striking similarities should be free to use by both artists, despite their similarities. Both “Joyful Noise” and “Dark Horse” use derivative descending minor scales in a basic rhythm, Harding said, and both use staccato downbeat rhythms on a high voiced synthesizer which is common in many trap beats.
Musicology writes that the loop is so basic that it shouldn't be subject to copyright enforcement. What next, copyrighting scales?
The 1983 prior art offered is the following track by Art of Noise. It has the Dark Horse instrument--ARR1, from the 1979 Fairlight CMI keyboard and an 80s cliche all by itself--and the beat, but a completely different melody.