A recent California jury decision in a copyright infringement lawsuit has many in the music world worried.
The case found that the writers of Katy Perry’s 2013 hit “Dark Horse” featuring Juicy J had copied a part of a 2008 song called “Joyful Noise” by Christian hip-hop artist Flame.
To compare, here’s Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse:”
And now here’s Flame’s “Joyful Noise:”
The jury awarded Flame nearly $2.8 million in damages. “Dark Horse” writers and producers — Perry, Dr. Luke, Sarah Hudson, Juicy J, Max Martin and Cirkut — called the decision a “travesty of justice,” according to Variety.
“There is no infringement. There was no access of substantial similarity,” the writers said in a statement.
Popular Youtuber and musician Adam Neely agrees that the case was unfairly decided. He says the ruling “sets a dangerous precedent” in the music industry.
He and other musicians he knows are “pretty scared” of the wider implications this case may cause, because the part of the song that came under scrutiny is “such a small little melodic fragment that I don’t feel like it is unique to ‘Joyful Noise,’ ” he says.
The two songs don’t share the same melody, chord progression or drum groove, he explains. But they do share a similar ostinato, which Merriam-Webster describes as “a musical figure repeated persistently at the same pitch throughout a composition.” Neely argues the ostinato isn’t a significant part of the song.
“In this case, the jury found that there was a striking similarity between the two pieces of music,” he says. “Now the problem from my perspective is that you could find that same striking similarity between any number of different kinds of music [and] any number of different pieces of music throughout history.”
To make his point, Neely took a couple of other well-known pieces of music and used a synthesizer to show how similar they could be to “Joyful Noise.”
Here are Neely’s examples:
Neely foresees a difficult path forward, saying that if the jury’s copyright ruling is applied to every piece of music, the music industry will be in a “morass of copyright infringement laws.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.