On Thursday, a jury unanimously decided that Katy Perry's 2013 song "Dark Horse" contained beats copied from Christian rapper Marcus Gray's 2009 song "Joyful Noise." The decision requires Perry and her record label, Capitol Records, to fork over $2.78 million to the plaintiff, with Perry paying $550,000 and the rest coming from the label.
This large sum is based on the popularity of "Dark Horse" following its release. It remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for a year straight, and was nominated for a Grammy in 2014.
"These defendants have made millions and millions of dollars from their infringement of the plaintiff's copyright," Gray's attorney, Michael A. Kahn, told the jury during the case, according to USA Today. "They seek a fair portion of the defendants' profits. Not all of them."
However, not everyone sees this as a victory. J. Michael Keyes, a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, fears it's the beginning of a slippery slope.
"The test for music copyright infringement is fundamentally broken," he said in a statement. "Under our current system, a defendant can be held liable when a very short musical snippet (in this case a 4 beat, 3 note phrase) sounds similar to another musical pattern."
The problem with the system, he elaborates, is that it ignores the reality that music has always been built borrowing, reimagining, and sampling. For instance, Perry's latest single "Never Really Over" is openly inspired by Dagny's "Love You Like That."
"We should have a legal test in place that acknowledges this long-standing musical reality," Keyes continued.
Perry was not in court for the decision and has not issued a public statement on the matter.