“Happy Birthday” Song Lawsuit: Filmmakers Sue Warner/Chappell Music To Have “Happy Birthday” Placed In Public Domain
The “Happy Birthday” song – the most famous song in the world – has almost always been property of Warner/Chappell Music, but it might make its way into the public domain very soon.
Lawsuit Filed To Have “Happy Birthday” In Public Domain
A group of filmmakers under the name of Good Morning to You Productions were making a documentary on the song and were asked for $1,500 by Warner/Chappell for the rights to use the song. In return, the filmmakers filed a lawsuit against the company in 2013, claiming that Warner/Chappell Music has no legitimate claim to own the rights to “Happy Birthday.”
Filmmakers based their case on a 1922 children book named The Everyday Song Book, that is part of the Warner’s digital library. The song first appeared in the book without any copyright. The first copyright of the song was registered in 1935 by Clayton Summy.
The first time a “Happy Birthday” song was introduced to an audience was in 1893, when Patty and Mildred J. Hill, two sisters, made their kindergarten class in Kentucky learn it. At the time, it was called “Good Morning to All,” but the song had the same famous “Happy Birthday” melody everyone knows. The song was first created to have the children learn to say “good morning” easily. The pupils eventually changed the lyrics to “Happy Birthday” and then began to sing the song at their birthday parties.
“Happy Birthday” Earns Warner/Chappell $2 Million a Year
In 1988, the Warner/Chappell finally gained copyright of the song by suing the Summy Company over it. Warner won the lawsuit, earning $25 million. As of this year, the company has made $2 million per year off of their “Happy Birthday” rights. A decade after the lawsuit, the Guinness World Record Book named “Happy Birthday” “the most recognized song in the English language.”
On a court hearing on July 29, California Judge George King was shown evidence of the existence of the song prior to the 1935 copyright. Warner/Chappell admitted there was evidence to prove the song existed before their copyright was obtained, but its representatives tried to argue that because The Everyday Song Book was published without authorization, the “Happy Birthday” song is still subject to common law copyright. The judge ordered the plaintiffs to reply within seven days, which could lead to a judgment or to a new hearing.
The “Happy Birthday” song could enter the public domain very soon. In France, it will officially be placed in the public domain on December 31, 2016. However, it is supposed to stay copyrighted in the U.S. until 2030.