Florida pop music fans are accustomed to hearing a new song and thinking it sounds suspiciously familiar. As the saying goes, mediocre artists borrow and great artists steal. There is a line between familiar and outright copyright infringement, but it isn’t always easy to see.

Florida music fans are no doubt familiar with Katy Perry’s hit “Dark Horse.” Indeed, there were few people who could escape it after it was released as the first single from the pop star’s most recent album and was promoted with a ubiquitous ancient Egypt-themed video. However, one group of music fans heard the song and thought they heard their own work.

A rapper who goes by the name of Flame has filed suit against Perry, claiming that “Dark Horse” infringes his copyright in his 2008 song “Joyful Noise.” Flame’s song appeared on an album that was nominated for a Grammy for best rock or pop gospel album. Along with his producers, the rapper claims that “Dark Horse” uses his work without his permission.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs argue that Perry’s use of “Joyful Noise” was especially damaging because the creators of “Dark Horse” took a Christian-themed song and used it to make a song that is, they claim, full of pagan imagery and allusions to witchcraft. Using terminology that often comes up in trademark disputes, rather than copyright infringement lawsuits, the plaintiffs argued that Perry’s song had “tarnished” their rights in “Joyful Noise.”

Intellectual property is a notoriously esoteric field of the law. It isn’t always easy to pin down when someone has crossed the line. At the same time, it’s crucial to entertainers and creators that they have at least some level of control over their intellectual property if they are going to make a living. Whichever side a person is on in an intellectual property dispute, the stakes can be very high. Florida attorneys who work in entertainment law can help artists protect their rights.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Katy Perry ‘Witchcraft,’ Kendrick Lamar Sampling Spark New Copyright Lawsuits,” Eriq Gardner, July 2, 2014