Mimesis Law
22 May 2017

‘Happy Birthday’ *Almost* In Public Domain

June 30, 2016 (IP Flow) — A settlement reached in the copyright case over “Happy Birthday” was approved by US District Judge George H. King in Los Angeles this week, thereby clearing the way for the song to enter the public domain.

Warner/Chappell Inc had been due to go on trial in December 2015 to decide whether the song had lapsed into the public domain. In September last year, Judge King ruled that Warner/Chappell did not own the rights to the lyrics, (just certain musical arrangements) thus invalidating their copyright claims and called for a trial to determine whether the music publishing company would have to repay licensing fees it had charged for the song.

The approval of the settlement therefore ends Warner/Chappell’s claims of ownership of ‘Happy Birthday’ which means they may no longer collect royalties on the song. They further agreed to repay $14 million to those who had paid them licensing fees. Musician Rupa Marya, one of the named plaintiffs who sued to release the song into the public domain, celebrated the result by performing a version of ‘Happy Birthday’ in the key of ‘F-U’ outside the courthouse:

The attorneys in the case are riding on a streak of successes, having successfully argued that “We Shall Overcome” belonged in the public domain, and most recently, have filed a lawsuit to do the same for Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land Is Our Land”.

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