There have been numerous examples in the last few years of famous musicians and songs being sued for copyright infringement, often but not always, by more obscure artists or songwriters. The most famous example of this was Robin Thicke & Pharell Williams being found guilty in their song ‘Blurred Lines’ of copying the Marvin Gaye hit ‘Got To Give It Up’. Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay damages of $5m as well as pay 50% of all future royalties to the estate of Marvin Gaye. There have also been other cases involving artists such as Ed Sheeran and Led Zeppelin, though not all cases have been successful.
Katy Perry has now joined the ignominious list of famous artists who have been found guilty of copyright infringement. A jury in the USA (civil matters are routinely tried by jury in the USA, unlike in the UK where a Judge would rule on the case) has ruled that her 2013 song ‘Dark Horse’ was copied from a 2009 Christian rap song called ‘Joyful Noise’ by Flame.
Ms Perry denied that she had ever heard the Flame song and her legal team described the beats of the two songs as ‘commonplace’ and thus not something that Flame could claim copyright in. It was argued in Court that Flame were ‘trying to own basic building blocks of music…that should be available to everyone’ and this is a familiar argument that has been put forward, namely that musical scores are limited by the availability of different chord arrangements and scales and these limitations mean that copyright infringement should not attach as all music is influenced to some extent by what has gone before.
Despite the arguments advanced by her legal team Ms Perry was found guilty of copying an important part of the Flame song, together with the six songwriters who worked on Dark Horse. The Court will now consider how much damages should be paid for this infringement, and given that Dark Horse has sold more than 13 million copies worldwide and has been viewed online more than 2.6 billion times since its release those damages are likely to be substantial.
Other artists, including Taylor Swift, have avoided potential copying issues by ensuring everyone who influenced a particular song in any way is given a song writing credit (in the case of Taylor Swift the credit was given to Right Said Fred!) which in turn entitles the credited artist to a percentage of the royalties.
Though it is always interesting to hear about famous people on the wrong side of the law, this case highlights useful lessons for all IP owners and not just those who create copyright works. When you create anything new, whether it be a product or a brand, you should take steps to check whether inadvertently or not this might infringe on another’s rights and seek legal advice if you have any doubts. Baines Wilson are experts in IP protection and enforcement. If you have any queries, please contact Adam Turley (firstname.lastname@example.org).