Why popular song Happy Birthday To You belongs to all

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Federal Judge Declares Happy Birthday Song Is In Public Domain.

A US judge has ruled that Warner/Chappell Music does not own a valid copyright to one of the world’s most recognisable songs, Happy Birthday to You, a decision that brings the song into the public domain. The highly-anticipated ruling comes in a putative class-action lawsuit filed by several artists against Warner/Chappell, the music publishing arm of Warner Music Group, over the song in 2013 seeking a return of the millions of dollars in fees the company has collected over the years. US district judge George H King ruled on Tuesday the copyright originally filed by the Clayton F Summy Co in 1935 applied to a specific arrangement of the song, not the tune itself.

It’s unbelievable.” Among the plaintiffs was film-maker Jennifer Nelson, who was told she would have to pay $1,500 USD in order to include Happy Birthday in a documentary she was making about its history. It also throws into doubt as much as $50 million in licensing fees collected by the music giant over the past 27 years, raising the possibility of a class-action lawsuit to come. Summy had obtained registrations to “Happy Birthday” in 1935, according to court papers. “Defendants ask us to find that the Hill sisters eventually gave Summy Co the rights in the lyrics to exploit and protect, but this assertion has no support in the record,” Mr King wrote in his 43-page opinion. “The Hill sisters gave Summy Co the rights to the melody, and the rights to piano arrangements based on the melody, but never any rights to the lyrics,” he added. “Happy Birthday is finally free after 80 years,” Randall Newman, an attorney for the artists including filmmakers working on a documentary about the song, told the Los Angeles Times. The case garnered attention from around the world not only because the tune is so commonly performed, but because many were not aware it was still under copyright, let alone purportedly owned by a major corporation.

Jay Morgenstern, then executive vice president of the Warner Chappell Music Group, told the New York Times a year after the acquisition the song had proved “a very good investment”. But when the song has been used for commercial purposes, such as in films, Warner has enforced its rights, and takes in an estimated $2 million in royalties for such uses each year. Instead, it could allow businesses of all types — from TV shows to Broadway plays to greeting cards to your local restaurant — to use “Happy Birthday” without fear of a lawsuit. “Warner/Chappell has been squeezing money out of a lot of people for a long time,” Michael Donaldson, an attorney at Donaldson + Callif who has represented several of the plaintiffs in the past, told The Washington Post. Many Americans will be surprised that its ownership was ever in doubt. “Happy Birthday” is sung millions — perhaps billions — of times every year, all around the globe, at home, in schools, on television and in movies.

It “is quite likely the most sung music in history, including all the output of the three B’s, Beethoven, Bach and The Beatles,” according to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The decision means that the plaintiffs — and possibly many other people, from filmmakers to greeting card companies and restaurant chains, all of whom have paid Warner/Chappell to use the song — will get their money back, Donaldson said. The next step is a class-action suit, he said, the scope of which will, once again, be decided in court. “Everybody in their daily lives has to deal with big companies, big companies that tell them ‘you have to do things our way because we’re big and you’re just a little individual,’” he said. “And here it is, a whole bunch of little individuals got together and they took it to court and won.

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