‘Happy Birthday’ copyright case reaches a settlement

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Happy Birthday’ Song Is About to Become Public Domain.

After more than two years of litigation, Happy Birthday to You — often called the most popular song in the world, but one that has long been under copyright — is one step closer to joining the public domain.

In September, a federal judge ruled that Warner Music, the song’s publisher, did not have a valid copyright claim to Happy Birthday, which has been estimated to collect $2 million a year in royalties. Terms of the deal were not disclosed in court papers announcing the settlement, but it puts an end to the class-action lawsuit filed in 2013 by a group of artists and filmmakers who had sought a return of the millions of dollars in fees the company had collected over the years for use of the song. District Judge George King in Los Angeles ruled that Warner/Chappell, the music publishing arm of privately owned Warner Music Group, did not own a copyright to the Happy Birthday lyrics. “While we respectfully disagreed with the court’s decision, we are pleased to have now resolved this matter,” Warner/Chappell said in a statement.

The origins of Happy Birthday date to 1893 with the publication of Good Morning to All, a song with the same tune but different lyrics that was written by Mildred Hill and her sister Patty, a kindergarten teacher in Kentucky. 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 case garnered attention from around the world not only because the tune is so commonly performed, but because many people were not aware it was still under copyright, let alone purportedly owned by a major corporation.

A lawyer for the association declined to comment on Wednesday, but the document filed with the court this week said that the organization was a party to the settlement. But when the song has been used for commercial purposes, such as in films, Warner has enforced its rights, and took in an estimated $2 million in royalties for such uses each year.

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