Katy Perry, collaborators ordered to pay more than $4.2m for copying song

Katy Perry, her collaborators and her record label must pay more than NZ$4.24 million because the pop star's 2013 hit Dark Horse copied a Christian rap song, a jury decided today.

It was an underdog victory for rapper Marcus Gray, a relatively obscure artist once known as Flame whose five-year-old lawsuit survived constant court challenges and a trial against top-flight attorneys for Perry and the five other music-industry heavyweights who wrote her song.

But the amount was less than the nearly NZ$30.5 million sought by attorneys for Gray and his two co-writers on the 2009 song Joyful Noise but they said they were pleased with the decision.

"These defendants have made millions and millions of dollars from their infringement of the plaintiff's copyright," Gray's attorney, Michael A. Kahn, told the jury.

Perry herself was hit for just over NZ$839,124, with Capitol Records responsible for the vast majority of the money. Defence attorneys had argued for an award of about NZ$549,245 after the jury decided earlier this week that Dark Horse copied Joyful Noise.

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Katy Perry talks to Toni Street ahead of her New Zealand tour. Source: Seven Sharp

Perry's attorney, Christine Lepera, said they plan to vigorously fight the decision.

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

Both sides agree that Perry herself made a profit of NZ$3.6 million, while Gray's attorneys argued that her song had grossed about NZ$62.5 million. The pop star testified at the beginning of the trial but has not been in court since.

Because the rhythmic instrumental riff from Joyful Noise plays through 45 per cent of Dark Horse, Kahn said his clients were entitled to 45 per cent of the entire earnings of Perry's album Prism, where her song appears.

The defence recommended dividing the award money by the number of songs on the album.

"A CD is a CD, you can't break it into pieces," Kahn said. "Every album had an infringing song. And not just any song, but the most popular song on the album."

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Carolyn Robinson flew to Brisbane to interview the star, who says there is a special reason Auckland will get the best of her world tour. Source: Seven Sharp

Both sides agree that sales and streams of Dark Horse should be in play.

Lawyers for Perry and her co-defendants, which include Capitol Records and producer Dr. Luke, said the millions Gray sought were based on ludicrous figures.

"They're not seeking fairness," the defendants' attorney, Aaron M. Wais, told the jury. "They're seeking to obtain as much money as possible."

Wais argued, based on expert testimony, that the disputed part of Dark Horse was worth only 5 per cent of its earnings.

He argued that the biggest driver of the song's earnings were not any part of the song itself, but the celebrity of Perry, who was already a major star when she recorded the song.

"The reason why people buy a Katy Perry album, buy a Katy Perry song, is because it's Katy Perry," Wais told the jurors. "If you replaced her with an anonymous artist, do you really think it would sell as well?"

At the end of the first phase of the trial Tuesday, jurors surprised many by finding all six writers of Dark Horse were liable for copying from Joyful Noise, though only a section of the instrumental track was in dispute. That included Perry, who only co-wrote the lyrics to the song, and Juicy J, who only provided a rap break for it.

All the songwriters testified that they had never heard of Gray or his song before he and co-writers Emanuel Lambert and Chike Ojukwu sued five years ago.

But Gray and his attorney only had to prove that they had ample opportunity to have heard it.

Collectively, the songwriters earned about NZ$15 million on the song before expenses and Capitol Records earned NZ$47 million, leading to the plaintiffs' NZ$62.5 million figure.

Recent years have brought similar wins in disputes over hit songs, though usually with big pop stars on both sides.

In the case of another 2013 mega-hit, Blurred Lines, a jury found singers Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams copied R&B legend Marvin Gaye's Got to Give it Up. Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay Gaye's children nearly NZ$11.2 million. The award was trimmed last year to just short of NZ$7.6 million on appeal.

No fight was required in 2016 when Tom Petty won a piece of British soul singer Sam Smith's hit Stay With Me. Petty's publishers said that while it was likely coincidental, the song's melody closely resembled Petty's 1989 song I Won't Back Down. Petty and Jeff Lynne were added as co-writers on Smith's song, but details on a dollar figure weren't released.

FILE - This April 11, 2019 file photo shows Katy Perry at the 10th annual DVF Awards at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. A jury has found that Perry’s 2013 hit “Dark Horse,” copied a 2009 Christian rap song. The nine-member federal jury in Los Angeles returned the unanimous verdict Monday, July 29, 2019. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Katy Perry. (File photo) Source: Associated Press