Plagiarist-accused Katy Perry gets a lift from Led Zeppelin
Case against singer/songwriter is thrown out because complainant's song is found not to be very original either
Los Angeles — Rock band Led Zeppelin’s win in a copyright infringement lawsuit over the opening chords of Stairway to Heaven is providing a boost to other songwriters and producers fighting similar allegations.
Katy Perry on Tuesday had a $2.8m jury verdict thrown out that found she had ripped off elements of Christian rapper Flame’s 2008 track in her hit Dark Horse. The decision is a victory for songwriters worried about a growing risk of constant legal battles over their work.
Dark Horse, released in 2013 by Capitol Records, topped the US music charts and was the second best-selling song worldwide in 2014.
US district judge Christina Snyder in Los Angeles followed in the footsteps of the Led Zeppelin decision in ruling that the fragments of the Flame song that Perry allegedly infringed were not original enough to warrant copyright protection. Snyder vacated the jury award in a post-trial ruling.
An eight-note sequence from Flame’s song Joyful Noise is not “a particularly unique or rare combination”, Snyder wrote.
The judge relied on a similar standard as an 11-judge panel of the federal appeals court in San Francisco did when it let stand a jury verdict in favour of Led Zeppelin. The Perry and Led Zeppelin rulings are likely to allay songwriters’ and producers’ fears that any major or minor hit is at risk of being targeted with copyright infringement over the use of commonplace musical elements that have been used in previous works.
The number of lawsuits has grown since a court in 2015 ruled Robin Thicke and Pharrell stole from Marvin Gaye with their song Blurred Lines, and awarded Gaye’s estate $5m.
Since then, Perry, Ed Sheeran and Juice WRLD have all been sued for copyright infringement, prompting the music industry to fret about a chilling effect. Most songs are in some way inspired by music that came before it, and there is a limited set of notes and combinations available.