In 2014, a lawsuit was intended to have the song “Happy Birthday” declared as belonging to the public domain.
On Tuesday, Sept. 22, Judge George H. King ruled that Warner/Chappell's claim of copyright for “Happy Birthday To You”—collecting royalties from TV shows, movies, restaurants and much more—which had been in effect since 1988 when the company bought Birch Tree Group, is invalid. Warner had earned an estimated $2 million a year.
A couple of filmmakers are currently making a documentary about the song and had to pay their dues to Warner. According to the Los Angeles Times:
“Two of the filmmaker plaintiffs paid $1,500 and $3,000 for the rights to use the song, their attorneys said. Filmmaker Steve James paid Warner $5,000 to use the song in his 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams.”
The ruling also indicated there was no evidence that the Summy Co. had obtained the rights to the song, but only to the specific piano arrangements. The judge made a discovery peering through a 1922 songbook that features a version of “Happy Birthday,” which was written by songwriting sisters Patty and Mildred Hill. The song, with the notorious repeated words “happy birthday to you,” was listed with “special permission” of the Summy Co.—without any mention of copyright.
The song now belongs to the public domain, and anyone who sings it or uses it can do so without paying for it.
Original article published on latimes.com.