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Katy Perry loses plagiarism lawsuit

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I'll admit it, I like to look at Katy Perry (she was awesome in the banned Sesame Street video). The little bit of her music I've heard I can not stand.

 

But apparently she's been sued for stealing a "beat" from a Christian rapper and the jury decided on behalf of the rapper. Lotsa money is about to change hands.

 

I read the article and was curious about the stolen beat. I listened to both tracks and what I hear is "boom boom clap" for both songs. What?

 

If you care here's a link to the CNN page where both music vids are posted. Am I missing something? What is in the rap song that has been stolen for the Perry song?

 

https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/30/entertainment/katy-perry-dark-horse-verdict/index.html

 

And if you don't listen to the tracks I don't blame ya a bit!

 

Zip

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The Sesame Street episode is banned? I watched that on PBS with my kids!

 

Anywho, for purposes of rap music, "beat" doesn't mean the drums or percussion. It means the entire instrumental track. If Katy Perry's producers used the actual sound recording of that beat without a license, then I am not surprised at the verdict. That's an easier case to make than proving Katy Perry plagiarized the composition.

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As I said in another thread on this subject, pretty soon you won't be able to use a snare backbeat on 2 and 4 or a I IV V chord progression without risking a lawsuit...

 

I think we need to return to the idea of a jury of our peers - at least on something like copyright infringement lawsuits. The juries should be comprised of musically educated people. The general public - the average folks who wind up on copyright infringement juries - apparently totally lack the basic understanding of musical fundamentals to the point where they really don't seem to be able to make knowledgeable, intelligent and fair decisions on what is, and what isn't legal in terms of copyrights and infringement anymore.

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The Sesame Street episode is banned? I watched that on PBS with my kids!

 

Anywho, for purposes of rap music, "beat" doesn't mean the drums or percussion. It means the entire instrumental track. If Katy Perry's producers used the actual sound recording of that beat without a license, then I am not surprised at the verdict.

 

I don't disagree - if they sampled the track, even if they slowed it down (the tempos are not the same on the two tracks) or otherwise manipulated it, they should be paying a licensing fee.

 

That's an easier case to make than proving Katy Perry plagiarized the composition.

 

My understanding is that that was the decision - the composition itself was determined to have been plagiarized due to having a similar "beat." I could be mistaken, but I haven't heard that the original track was allegedly sampled. As I understand it, the writers of the Katy Perry track testified that they had never heard the track that their song supposedly stole from. But that's not enough by itself to prevent a possible infringement case loss - especially if the song that was allegedly copied from had wide enough distribution / dissemination...

 

 

 

Gray’s attorneys argued that the beat and instrumental line featured through nearly half of “Dark Horse” are substantially similar to those of “Joyful Noise.”

 

Perry’s attorneys argued that the song sections in question represent the kind of simple musical elements that if found to be subject to copyright would hurt music and all songwriters.

 

“They’re trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone,” Perry’s lawyer Christine Lepera said during closing arguments Thursday.

 

Perry and the song’s co-authors, including her producer Dr. Luke, testified during the seven-day trial that none of them had heard the song or heard of Gray before the lawsuit, nor did they listen to Christian music.

 

Gray’s attorneys had only to demonstrate, however, that “Joyful Noise” had wide dissemination and could have been heard by Perry and her co-authors, and provide as evidence that it had millions of plays on YouTube and Spotify, and that the album it’s included on was nominated for a Grammy.

 

“They’re trying to shove Mr. Gray into some gospel music alleyway that no one ever visits,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Michael A. Kahn during closing arguments, when he also pointed out that Perry had begun her career as a Christian artist.

 

 

https://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/katy-perrys-dark-horse-improperly-copied-christian-rap-song-jury-decides

 

 

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Posted (edited)
As I said in another thread on this subject' date=' pretty soon you won't be able to use a snare backbeat on 2 and 4 or a I IV V chord progression without risking a lawsuit...[/quote']

 

I agree that the Marvin Gaye/Blurred Lines verdict set a dangerous precedent. However, is this the same kind of case? From the link in the OP, it looks like the claim was infringement of copyright in a sound recording--aka unauthorized sampling. I should read up on the lawsuit more. I'll check it out. The CNN article says that the claim is that they "used the underlying beat" which might be leading me to the wrong conclusion.

Edited by Zooey

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Posted (edited)
As I said in another thread on this subject' date=' pretty soon you won't be able to use a snare backbeat on 2 and 4 or a I IV V chord progression without risking a lawsuit...[/b']

 

I think we need to return to the idea of a jury of our peers - at least on something like copyright infringement lawsuits. The juries should be comprised of musically educated people. The general public - the average folks who wind up on copyright infringement juries - apparently totally lack the basic understanding of musical fundamentals to the point where they really don't seem to be able to make knowledgeable, intelligent and fair decisions on what is, and what isn't legal in terms of copyrights and infringement anymore.

 

wasn't there a thread about a recent decision that seemed to pull that back and ruled that only what was on the published sheet music (i.e. lyrics and melody) was protected?

 

Although I have to admit to being a bit confused because it sounded to me as if people here (including you)

were not in favor of that ruling. I'll have to try to find that thread. It was just a couple of weeks ago, IIRC.

 

Copyrighting a 'beat' is a tough call. Does Brian May own the 'beat' to "We Will Rock You"? Hard to argue that anyone using that beat these days wouldn't owe him a cut.

 

Crazy thing is that pop songs these days all seem to have half-a-dozen or more people with songwriting credits. What's the big deal to tack on a couple of more to Katy's song?

 

Although apparently the song sold/downloaded something like 13 million copies. Probably adds up to a nice little chunk of change.

 

Edited by Vito Corleone

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As I said in another thread on this subject, pretty soon you won't be able to use a snare backbeat on 2 and 4 or a I IV V chord progression without risking a lawsuit...

 

I think we need to return to the idea of a jury of our peers - at least on something like copyright infringement lawsuits. The juries should be comprised of musically educated people. The general public - the average folks who wind up on copyright infringement juries - apparently totally lack the basic understanding of musical fundamentals to the point where they really don't seem to be able to make knowledgeable, intelligent and fair decisions on what is, and what isn't legal in terms of copyrights and infringement anymore.

 

Agreed.

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I agree that the Marvin Gaye/Blurred Lines verdict set a dangerous precedent.

 

Yup.

 

However, is this the same kind of case? From the link in the OP, it looks like the claim was infringement of copyright in a sound recording--aka unauthorized sampling. I should read up on the lawsuit more. I'll check it out. The CNN article says that the claim is that they "used the underlying beat" which might be leading me to the wrong conclusion.

 

Check the info and link in my second post. They say they never heard the original, and if that's true, then it's highly unlikely they sampled it and used it on the Katy Perry track.

 

 

 

 

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My understanding is that that was the decision - the composition itself was determined to have been plagiarized due to having a similar "beat." I could be mistaken, but I haven't heard that the original track was allegedly sampled. As I understand it, the writers of the Katy Perry track testified that they had never heard the track that their song supposedly stole from. But that's not enough by itself to prevent a possible infringement case loss - especially if the song that was allegedly copied from had wide enough distribution / dissemination...

 

Yeah, you're right. The claim was infringement of the composition.

 

This looks a lot like the Blurred Lines verdict. I don't think the two compositions are close enough to say that one is a copy of the other. The similarities are a similar sparseness of production, the drum pattern, a keyboard part that alternates between two half tones, and Juicy J. saying "you know who it is."

 

 

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Copyrighting a 'beat' is a tough call. Does Brian May own the 'beat' to "We Will Rock You"? Hard to argue that anyone using that beat these days wouldn't owe him a cut.

 

Except that "beat" doesn't mean "beat" for purposes of hip hop. It means everything in the song that is not rapping.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I think most of these copyright infringement cases are bonkers.* Music has an indisputable history of developing by way of musicians taking chord progressions, rhythms, etc. from their peers or prior generations and then adding their own spins on it.

 

Neither that CNN article nor the brief NPR story I heard mention anything about sampling. Instead, they seem to just discuss plagiarism.... Whole sub-genres have developed from using the same rhythm though; the "blues" has only a small handful of basic chord progressions. Sheesh. Inspiration does not equal plagiarism.

 

If there were an accusation of sampling in this case, then I would think the "discovery" phase of the lawsuit would involve bringing out the individual tracks from the Katy Perry song and visually comparing to sound waves of tracks in the rap tune; correct me if I'm wrong, but that's how the plaintiffs could prove sampling occurred. (How many folks in a randomly selected jury would understand that???)

 

*There are some cases of clearer plagiarism, where artists use the exact same modern chord progression, by which I mean progressions with non-chord tones or notes out of the key placed in the same positions; this is different from using a I - IV - V progression, etc., to convey certain moods. Radiohead said outright that they had a song by the Hollies with a I - III - IV - iv progression in mind when writing "Creep," so a few members of the Hollies are included in songwriting credits for "Creep." That's a rather rare chord progression though. Other things, like I - vi - IV - V or bVI - bVII - I are used to evoke where listeners have heard them before; that's been common practice in chordal music for centuries. Claiming copyright of a specific rhythm is even more questionable, so it seems to me, unless there are very specific other factors involved.

Edited by arcadesonfire

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Copyrighting a 'beat' is a tough call. Does Brian May own the 'beat' to "We Will Rock You"? Hard to argue that anyone using that beat these days wouldn't owe him a cut.

 

 

I agree - that's a tough call. On one hand, that's hugely iconic and widely known... and a fundamental "hook" of the song... OTOH, it's essentially two eighth note floor stomps followed by a quarter note hand clap... do you have any idea how many songs use that basic rhythm? Some use it occasionally, while others use it a lot... although kick / snare is more commonly used instead of stomps and claps. But the rhythm itself? I don't know if it's unique and distinctive enough that I'd give it copyright protection and prohibit every other musician on the planet from using it in a composition unless they pay up... IMHO, it's too musically fundamental, and too much of a common "building block" (like a I IV V progression or a 2 / 4 backbeat) to be restricted in that way. That same basic rhythm was used by others prior to WWRY too, so there's a prior art argument that could probably be made too. However, if it's sampled, then you get into the protections provided by the SR copyright (sound recording), and that's a completely different story - it is definitely covered under that.

 

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As I said in another thread on this subject, pretty soon you won't be able to use a snare backbeat on 2 and 4 or a I IV V chord progression without risking a lawsuit...

 

I think we need to return to the idea of a jury of our peers - at least on something like copyright infringement lawsuits. The juries should be comprised of musically educated people. The general public - the average folks who wind up on copyright infringement juries - apparently totally lack the basic understanding of musical fundamentals to the point where they really don't seem to be able to make knowledgeable, intelligent and fair decisions on what is, and what isn't legal in terms of copyrights and infringement anymore.

 

The lawyers in these cases work very hard to prevent anyone with any useful understanding of the subject from being seated as a juror.

 

I was tossed from an auto liability jury once when they discovered that I had the training and experience to drive race cars. The contention from the lawyer was that I might discount expert witness testimony and apply my own knowledge instead. :idk:

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Except that "beat" doesn't mean "beat" for purposes of hip hop. It means everything in the song that is not rapping.

 

 

I don't believe that is the case here. I haven't listened to the clip, but reading the article it doesn't appear that they used a sample (which would be a no brainer for infringement) and their defense was that what they used was too short to be considered stealing anything.

 

If it's just a simple drum pattern? Hard to see how you can say that anyone 'owns' it. But if it is unique enough, I could see the argument.

 

I haven't heard the beat in question to know.

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I agree - that's a tough call. On one hand, that's hugely iconic and widely known... and a fundamental "hook" of the song... OTOH, it's essentially two eighth note floor stomps followed by a quarter note hand clap... do you have any idea how many songs use that basic rhythm?

 

Isn't that Queen's "We Will Rock You"?

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If there were an accusation of sampling in this case' date=' then I would think the "discovery" phase of the lawsuit would involve bringing out the individual tracks from the Katy Perry song and [b']visually [/b]comparing to sound waves of tracks in the rap tune; correct me if I'm wrong, but that's how the plaintiffs could prove sampling occurred. (How many folks in a randomly selected jury would understand that???)

 

I derailed the thread with my speculation about sampling. I was thrown by the CNN article that says they "used the underlying beat." A "beat" in hip hop is the instrumental backing track.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

 

Isn't that Queen's "We Will Rock You"?

 

Yes. That's what we were talking about.

 

Hey...wasn't it you who started the thread a couple of weeks ago about the ruling that said only what's on sheet music is 'protected'? At least for older songs?

 

Can you look that up again. I'd be interested to contrast that ruling to this one. Maybe the difference was that only applied to songs that were copyrighted prior to the timeframe where you could submit a recording for copyright

 

Edited by Vito Corleone
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I derailed the thread with my speculation about sampling. I was thrown by the CNN article that says they "used the underlying beat." A "beat" in hip hop is the instrumental backing track.

 

 

No harm, no foul. I agree that "beat" can mean much more than just the rhythm. Thinking there might be sampling involved seems reasonable to me, because otherwise, this case comes across as just plain bonkers. It seems that with sampling out of the picture, the thought that the jury was selected specifically for lack of musical experience is the way to explain the outcome.

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Isn't that Queen's "We Will Rock You"?

 

Yes... but my point is that there are many other songs that use rhythmic figures with two eighth notes followed by a quarter note. It's musically very common (although more commonly performed with kick and snare instead of stomps and claps), and that rhythmic figure existed and saw significant, widespread use prior to Brian May writing WWRY.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

 

The lawyers in these cases work very hard to prevent anyone with any useful understanding of the subject from being seated as a juror.

 

I was tossed from an auto liability jury once when they discovered that I had the training and experience to drive race cars. The contention from the lawyer was that I might discount expert witness testimony and apply my own knowledge instead. :idk:

 

I can understand the logic behind that. As jurors, you're supposed to judge the case only on what is presented in court. Not on what the juror believe he/she may personally 'know' better than the witnesses.

 

If you have such training and experience that could influence the jury, then you should probably be called as a witness, not be a member of the jury.

 

Edited by Vito Corleone
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I get the thinking the jury should have some musical knowledge to better understand these cases. But the flip side of that is having jurors with preconceived notions of what should constitute a protected piece of music. The are supposed to not have much knowledge and only rely on the testimony of the witnesses.

 

It is the job of the lawyers to present testimony and evidence that explains this stuff to them.

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The lawyers in these cases work very hard to prevent anyone with any useful understanding of the subject from being seated as a juror.

 

 

Of course they do. They want brainless, uneducated people that can be easily manipulated on juries.

 

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