The jury had found last July that “Dark Horse” included an eight-note ostinato that was stolen from “Joyful Noise,” a song by the Christian rapper Flame. The jury awarded $2.8 million in damages.
Snyder found that the jury’s verdict was not supported by the weight of the evidence in the case.
“It is undisputed in this case,” Snyder wrote, “that the signature elements of the 8-note ostinato in ‘Joyful Noise’… is not a particularly unique or rare combination.”
Snyder drew on the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness, musicologist Todd Decker, in coming to her conclusion that the jury got it wrong.
“A relatively common 8-note combination of unprotected elements that happens to be played in a timbre common to a particular genre of music cannot be so original as to warrant copyright protection,” she wrote.
Christine Lepera, the lead defense attorney at the trial, praised the judge’s ruling.
“In a well reasoned and methodical decision, the court properly vacated the jury verdict, finding that ‘Dark Horse’ does not infringe ‘Joyful Noise,’ as a matter of law,” Lepera said. “This an important victory for music creators and the music industry, recognizing that music building blocks cannot be monopolized. The creators of ‘Dark Horse’ stand vindicated.”
The decision is the second piece of good news in as many weeks for music labels and major acts, which have felt besieged by frivolous copyright litigation over the last few years. Last Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict finding that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” did not infringe on an earlier song by the band Spirit.
Flame, whose legal name is Marcus Gray, will still be able to appeal Snyder’s ruling to the 9th Circuit.
By Gene Maddaus