Recent News - Judge Rules No Copyright on Happy Birthday Song!

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Sep 23

Hughes Media Law Group

Judge Rules No Copyright on Happy Birthday Song!

Posted by Hughes Media Law Group

I would venture to guess that most people did not know that Warner Music Group/Chappell claimed a copyright on the ubiquitous Happy Birthday song until a federal judge ruled Tuesday that the copyright claim was invalid and news spread like wildfire on the Internet.

“Haaaaappy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear frieeeeend, happy birthday to you!”

Those 16 words have made Warner/Chappell an estimated $2 million per year in licensing fees since it claimed ownership of the 1935 copyright. The class action lawsuit was filed by filmmakers who have paid thousands of dollars to use the song for as little as 5 seconds in movies or any part of a “profit-making enterprise.” Even a restaurant singing “Happy Birthday” to a patron would technically have to pay a licensing fee (see our previous post on public performance licenses).

The ruling came in part because Warner/Chappell could not produce evidence that anyone ever owned a copyright for the lyrics to “Happy Birthday.” Both parties agreed that the melody (originally written as a song for school children) entered the public domain years ago, but no one actually knows who wrote the lyrics. Without this evidence, Warner/Chappell was unable to show that they had validly acquired copyright to the lyrics of the most famous song in the world.

The legal battle continues as the plaintiff’s attorneys are now working on recouping the millions of dollars in licensing fees that Warner/Chappell have collected over the years.