Artists, Warner Music settle ‘Happy Birthday’ copyright case

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Settlement reached in ‘Happy Birthday’ copyright case.

A settlement has been reached in the lawsuit over the copyright of “Happy Birthday to You,” just days before a trial was set to begin to determine whether the ubiquitous song belongs in the public domain.A settlement was announced Wednesday in a copyright dispute over royalty rights to “Happy Birthday” — billed as the most recognized song in the English language. In September, a federal judge ruled that Warner/Chappell never had the right to charge for use of the song, and neither did any of the other companies that had collected millions of dollars in royalties for the tune. In the dispute, Rupa Marya, Robert Siegel, Good Morning to You Productions Corp. and Majar Productions brought a class-action claim seeking to invalidate Warner/Chappell Music and Summy-Birchard, Inc.’s claim to the song’s copyright.

The plaintiffs contended that, since the defendants didn’t own the copyright to the lyrics, the plaintiffs were owed “millions of dollars of unlawful licensing fees” that they had shelled out for the song over the years. King — who issued Tuesday’s order — ruled in favor of filmmakers, including director Jennifer Nelson, who had challenged Warner/Chappell Music’s decades-old copyright claims to the song. “Because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the ‘Happy Birthday’ lyrics, Defendants, as Summy Co.’s purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics,” King found. The trial would have dealt with further questions of ownership based around an appeal from a charity apparently co-founded by Patty Hill, the schoolteacher who wrote “Happy Birthday” in the late 19th century. Summy Co., which claimed the original disputed copyright. “The Court has been advised that the parties — plaintiffs, defendants and the intervenors — have agreed to settle this case,” Judge George H. A Warner/Chappell representative said that while the company “respectfully disagreed with the court’s decision, we are pleased to have now resolved this matter.” Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson filed suit in 2013 after she was billed $1,500 to use the composition in a film she planned to make about the song’s history.

The terms have not been disclosed, but a person with knowledge of the settlement said the entire case addressing the validity of the copyright and potential damages owed has been resolved and there will be no further appeals. The stakes were raised earlier this week when King left the door open for plaintiffs to make claims on back royalties paid to Warner, Birch Tree and the Summy Co. dating to 1949. In a ruling filed Monday, the judge gave the plaintiffs the go-ahead to file a claim based on that timeline, but said he would determine later whether, if the filmmakers prevailed, Warner would have to pay damages back that far.

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