Reportedly, the Happy Birthday song, which earns Warner/Chappell Music millions a year from "licensing", is actually in the public domain. Here is the interesting part about this:
The creatively named Good Morning to You Productions, a documentary film company planning a film about the song Happy Birthday, has now filed a lawsuit concerning the copyright of Happy Birthday and are seeking to force Warner/Chappell to return the millions of dollars it has collected over the years. That's going to make this an interesting case.
More than 120 years after the melody to which the simple lyrics of Happy Birthday to You is set was first published, defendant Warner/Chappell boldly, but wrongfully and unlawfully, insists that it owns the copyright to Happy Birthday to You, and with that copyright the exclusive right to authorize the song's reproduction, distribution, and public performances pursuant to federal copyright law. Defendant Warner/Chappell either has silenced those wishing to record or perform Happy Birthday to You or has extracted millions of dollars in unlawful licensing fees from those unwilling or unable to challenge its ownership claims.
Irrefutable documentary evidence, some dating back to 1893, s hows that the copyright to Happy Birthday to You, if there ever was a valid copyright to any part of the song expired no later than 1921 and that if defendant Warner/Chappell owns any rights to Happy Birthday to You, those rights are limited to the extremely narrow right to reproduce and distribute specific piano arrangements for the song published in 1935. Significantly, no court has ever adjudicated the validity or scope of the defendant's claimed interest in Happy Birthday to You, nor in the song's melody or lyrics, which are themselves independent works.
Plaintiff GMTY, on behalf of itself and all others similarly situated, seeks a declaration that Happy Birthday to You is dedicated to public use and is in the public domain as well as monetary damages and restitution of all the unlawful licensing fees that defendant Warner/Chappell improperly collected from GMTY and all other Class members.
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