MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: plagiarizing music.
Five years ago, Christian rap artist Flame sued pop superstar Katy Perry for plagiarizing one of his songs. Flame argued Perry’s song “Dark Horse” sounded a lot like one of his songs called “Joyful Noise.” On Monday, a unanimous jury in Los Angeles agreed with him.
NICK EICHER, HOST: The dispute involved the song’s beat and instrumental line. Lawyers for Perry and her co-writers argued those are basic building blocks of music that should be available to everyone. But the jury declared the beat and riff at the center of “Joyful Noise” were original enough to be copyrighted.
Let’s listen to a bit of each. First, Flame’s “Joyful Noise”:
MUSIC: [Joyful Noise]
And here’s Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse”:
MUSIC: [Dark Horse]
REICHARD: Joining us now to talk about what this could mean for the music industry is Lynde Langdon. She’s the managing editor of WORLD Digital and has been following this case.
Good morning, Lynde!
LYNDE LANGDON, REPORTER: Good morning.
REICHARD: Copyright cases involving songs are nothing new. Some of us may be familiar with the dispute between the 1980s rock group Queen and rapper Vanilla Ice. What makes this particular case unique?
LANGDON: It’s unusual for a jury to find against a major artist like Perry. Oftentimes, these matters can be settled out of court, and that’s what happened in the dispute between Queen and Vanilla Ice over the bass line in the song “Pressure.” But there are big bucks at stake in this case. Flame’s lawyers told jurors that “Dark Horse” earned $41 million, some of which should go to the rapper and his co-writers. Perry and the recording company of course say the profits from the song were much lower.
REICHARD: What effect is this likely to have going forward?
LANGDON: Well, at trial, Perry’s lawyers argued that the beat in dispute—really only about eight repeated notes—was so basic it didn’t count as creative work that was subject to copyright. Now that a jury has found otherwise, artists are under more pressure to make the elements of a song unique. Each riff, bump, diddy, and even sound effects could be subject to scrutiny in court.
REICHARD: Did the Christian rapper’s faith play any role in this case?
LANGDON: It did to the extent that “Dark Horse” tarnished the God-praising message of Flame’s original song. In the lawsuit, Flame’s lawyers noted that “Dark Horse” evoked imagery of “witchcraft, paganism, black magic, and Illuminati,”—not exactly the themes you want associated with a Christian rap song.
REICHARD: Lynde Langdon is managing editor of WORLD Digital. Thanks for joining us today, Lynde!
LANGDON: You’re welcome, Mary.