‘Happy Birthday’ Now Belongs to Everyone

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A judge has approved a $14 million class action settlement over the song “Happy Birthday to You,” ending decades of uncertainty as to whether it belongs in the public domain.
     U.S. District Judge George King found the terms of the settlement fair and reasonable in a June 30 final order and judgment, after ruling last year that music publisher Warner/Chappell Music does not hold a valid copyright interest in the song.”The court hereby declares that, as of the final settlement date, the song entitled ‘Happy Birthday to You!’ will be in the public domain,” King wrote in Thursday’s order.
     During court proceedings, Warner/Chappell 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 was $2 million a year.
     The melody of the song was composed in the late 1800s by school teacher Mildred Hill in Louisville, Kentucky. The song was a variation on “Good Morning to All,” with lyrics by Mildred’s sister, Patty Hill.
     In 2013, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson filed a class action 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.
     Attorneys for the plaintiffs built their case around an extensive investigation into the song’s history and origins, including an analysis of U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress records, historical source materials, old court filings, and news reports.

%d bloggers like this: