LOS ANGELES (CN) – The attorneys who persuaded a federal judge that the song “Happy Birthday to You” belongs in the public domain were awarded $4.6 million in fees this week.
U.S. District Judge George King in June ended decades of uncertainty about the status of one of the most recognizable songs in the English language when he approved a $14 million class action settlement and said the song would no longer be afforded copyright protection.
Music publisher Warner/Chappell claimed ownership of the song and charged film and television producers between five- and six-figure fees to use it.
By some estimates, “Happy Birthday to You” netted the publisher $2 million a year in royalties.
The melody was composed in the late 1800s by schoolteacher Mildred Hill, of Louisville. It was a variation of “Good Morning to All,” with lyrics by Mildred’s sister, Patty Hill.
New York filmmaker Jennifer Nelson was astonished when Warner/Chappell charged her $1,500 to license the song for a documentary about the composition’s history and origins.
Nelson filed a class action lawsuit in 2013, claiming Warner/Chappell had collected and continued to collect millions of dollars in licensing fees even though authorship and ownership of the song were in dispute.
Her attorneys built their case around extensive investigation, including an analysis of U.S. Copyright Office and Library of Congress records, historical source materials, old court filings and news reports
Her counsel included the firms Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, attorney Randall Newman, Donahue Fitzgerald, Glancy Prongay & Murray, and Hunt Ortmann Palffy Nieves Darling & Mah.
On Tuesday, King awarded them attorneys’ fees of 33 percent of the $14 million settlement fund: $4,620,000.
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