“Happy Birthday to You” Song Copyright Stricken

by: Kelly A. Williams, a shareholder at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

Good Morning to You Productions Corp. v. Warner Chappell Music, Case. No. 2:13-cv-04460, C.D. Cal. is about whether Warner/Chappell was properly asserting that it owned a copyright in the song “Happy Birthday to You.”

Birthday CakeThe case is a class action suit led by film production companies and a California musician who were working on a documentary about the song, “Happy Birthday to You.”  Warner/Chappell claimed to have a copyright on the song and demanded that Plaintiffs pay a $1,500 licensing fee to use the song.  The court goes through a large amount of historical evidence presented by both sides on cross motions for summary judgment.  After reviewing the evidence, the court found that Warner/Chappell did not own a valid copyright in the “Happy Birthday” lyrics and that the music for the song had entered the public domain years ago.  The origin of Warner/Chappell’s claim that it owned the copyright went back to a previous company which had acquired a song from two sisters that had the same music but different words, titled “Good Morning to All.”  The court could not find any reference to the “Happy Birthday” words in the agreement between the sisters and the purchasing company, Summy Co. (Defendants were successors-in-interest to Summy Co.).  Thus, the court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs.  Plaintiffs are seeking to have Warner/Chappell return the millions of dollars they collected over the years.  Also, we are all now free to sing “Happy Birthday to You” without fear of having to pay $1,500 (unless the case gets reversed on any appeal).

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