Many moons ago, we briefly mentioned the ongoing legal drama that surrounds the “Happy Birthday to You” song (see “Music Mondays: The Legal Battle over the World’s Most Popular Song”) and as of late, there has been some updates. Jennifer Nelson, producer of the documentary film “Happy Birthday”, filed a suit against music company, Warner/Chappell, back in 2013. She asserted that the company is wrongfully collecting royalties on a song that doesn’t belong to them, so rather than cough up the $1500 licensing fee, Nelson has fought back in court to make the song public domain. A recent development may allow people to finally sing the song without worry of copyright infringement– the plaintiff has produced evidence in the form of a songbook from 1921-1922 which contained a version of the birthday song. Nelson’s lawyers are saying that this new evidence “conclusively proves that any copyright that may have existed for the song itself…expired decades ago.” This means, according to copyright law, that the song would have become public domain by 1950, and Warner/Chappell would have no legal ownership over it. “Our clients want to give ‘Happy Birthday to You’ back to the public, which is what [song writer] Patty Hill wanted all along,” said Mark C. Rifkin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. Judge George H. King of United States District Court in Los Angeles should be delivering judgment on the case soon. And that means the next time you go to Chili’s for your birthday, instead of the “non-copyrighted” birthday songs, you may actually be able to hear “Happy Birthday to You.”
Check out the full article here: An Old Songbook Could Put ‘Happy Birthday’ in the Public Domain
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