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‘Happy Birthday’ Fight Settles for $14 Million

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A legal battle over the copyright to the song "Happy Birthday to You" has settled for $14 million, paving the way for a declaration that the song is in the public domain.

The terms of the class action settlement and a motion for preliminary approval of it were filed late Monday.

U.S. District Judge George King ruled in September that music publisher Warner/Chappell Music does not hold a valid copyright interest in the song "Happy Birthday to You," and that evidence suggests the song has been in the public domain since 1922 .

During court proceedings, the music publisher admitted that it charged film and television producers between five and six figures to use the most recognizable song in the English language.

By some estimates, the value of "Happy Birthday to You" royalties is $2 million a year.

The melody of the song was composed in the late 1800s by school teacher Mildred Hill in Louisville, Ky. The song was a variation on "Good Morning to All" with lyrics by her sister, Patty Hill.

In 2013, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson filed a class action complaint through her production company, 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.

Nelson was shocked when Warner/Chappell charged her $1,500 to license the song for a documentary about the song's history and origins.

According to the settlement, her company Good Morning to You Productions will receive an incentive payment of $15,000 for participating in litigation that stretched over three years.

Filmmaker Robert Siegel and singer and guitarist Rupa Marya will receive incentive payments of $10,000 each.

In a court filing, attorneys for the plaintiffs noted that their case was built around an extensive investigation into the song's history and origins and included an analysis of U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress records, historical source materials, old court filings, and news reports.

"If approved by the court, by declaring the song to be in the public domain the settlement will end more than 80 years of uncertainty regarding the disputed copyright," a notice for preliminary approval of the settlement states.

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