Do you ever think that all pop songs sound the same? If you have, you might not be the only one who’s had that thought. Several musicians lately have sued better known musicians, claiming their success comes, at least in part, from stealing parts from older, lesser-known songs. Lately, the musicians filing the lawsuits demanding compensation for their stolen work have been successful in court, leaving many people asking about the difference between inspiration and infringement.
The latest musician to achieve success in the courtroom is Marcus Gray, who goes by Flame in the music industry. Gray wrote a Christian rap song called “Joyful Noise,” which was released in 2008. When Katy Perry released “Dark Horse” five years later, Gray sued, claiming Perry’s song had stolen important elements of “Joyful Noise,” and that the alleged theft was a significant factor in the song’s success, which included holding the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 list for four weeks in 2014.
Perry’s attorneys argued before a federal jury in Los Angeles that the musical elements the two songs had in common with each other, such as a few notes that were repeated in a pattern, are basic elements of music, rather than intellectual property that could be protected by copyright.
Whether Perry was even aware of Gray’s song when she and her five collaborators came together to write “Dark Horse” is not entirely clear, but even if she had been aware of it, could she have used it as inspiration for her own song without going so far as to steal it? These copyright lawsuits have forced juries (and the music industry) to consider the difference between inspiration and infringement, and it’s not yet clear where that line will land. Continue reading ›