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How do copyright claims move through the court system?

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2022 | Intellectual Property, Intellectual Property Litigation

Copyright protections allow the authors of original works of art to hold those who attempt to steal these creations accountable within our legal system. If successful, the person who alleges copyright infringement can get monetary awards to help make up for the funds lost when the other party stole their creation.

In theory, this sounds like a fairly easy remedy to pursue, but the reality is rarely so straight forward. These cases can take years to sort out and are best saved for allegations that can involve large losses. In a recent example, pop superstar Katy Perry faced allegations of copyright infringement from rapper Marcus Gray. The case goes back almost ten years, with Marcus Gray filing the lawsuit against Perry in 2014 and likely starting the allegations of infringement even earlier.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Gray stated Katy Perry’s famous song “Dark Horse” used an ostinato, or continually repeated set of notes, from his song “Joyful Noise.” The lower courts agreed with Mr. Gray and awarded him $2.8 million.

Ms. Perry disagreed with the court’s holding and took the case to the federal appeals court. On March 10, the federal appeals court agreed with Ms. Perry finding the ostinato in question was “too simple” for copyright protections. In their decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stated the portion of the song at issue was an arrangement that was tantamount to “musical building blocks.” As such, a copyright finding would have led to an “improper monopoly” over the short sequence.

The case highlights a common progression of copyright infringement claims in our system. First, an allegation of infringement. At that point both parties may choose to negotiate and either decide on a settlement or move forward with litigation. Even after the court decides, litigation may continue if one party files for an appeal. Although this specific example discussed above appears resolved, there is still a chance Mr. Gray could attempt to move the case up one last level: to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Those who believe their case qualifies can seek relief in much the same manner.