‘Happy Birthday’ Lawsuit Ends In Agreed Settlement, Party Song Deemed Public Domain

The parties in the “Happy Birthday” lawsuit have reportedly reached a settlement out of court. Although the terms of the agreement were not disclosed, the song “Happy Birthday to You” will become public domain at the conclusion of the controversial case.

Although the history has become a topic of debate, it is widely accepted that the traditional birthday song was based on a song titled “Good Morning to All” — which was written by Jessica, Mildred J., and Patty Smith Hill.

As reported by Telegraph, “Good Morning to All” became well known in the late 1890s and early 1900s after being published in a children’s songbook.

Over the next 30 years, the song’s melody stayed the same. However, the lyrics were eventually replaced to make a birthday song.

It is unclear how or why the lyrics were changed. However, “Happy Birthday to You” first appeared in print in 1924. Over the next decade, the song gained worldwide attention as it was covered by several recording artists and used in numerous films.

Ten years later, Jessica Hill sought and was granted a copyright — as “Happy Birthday to You” had the same melody as “Good Morning to All.” The popular birthday party song was officially published, under copyright protection, by Clayton F. Summy Company in 1935.

Warner/Chappell music acquired the copyright to “Happy Birthday to You” in 1988. As the original copyright had been renewed numerous times, it was reportedly not set to expire until 2030.

As reported by UnhappyBirthday.com, Warner/Chappell collected an estimated $2 million in royalties, each year, for public performances of the popular song.

Although it is one of the most well-known and most often performed songs in the world, “Happy Birthday to You” was subject to the United States copyright law. Therefore, anyone using the song in a public performance was compelled to pay royalties to Warner/Chappell.

Those who used the song during a public performance, without prior permission, were subject to a hefty fine.

In June 2013, Good Morning to You Productions filed a class action lawsuit, claiming that “Happy Birthday to You” was actually “dedicated to public use and in the public domain.” The complaint, which was published on Scribd, also calls for the return of “millions of dollars of unlawful licensing fees collected by defendant Warner/Chappell.”

In September 2015, Chief U.S. District Judge George King ruled in favor of the Plaintiff and declared that Warner/Chappell did not have a valid copyright to the traditional birthday song.

Although he addressed the copyright, the “Happy Birthday” lawsuit was continued, as the plaintiffs were still seeking millions of dollars in damages.

On Thursday, the parties in the “Happy Birthday” lawsuit announced they came to a settlement agreement out of court. The parties did not disclose the terms of their agreement. However, as reported by NBC News, a spokesperson said the defendants “are pleased to have now resolved this matter.” Attorney Mark Rifkin, who represented the plaintiffs, expressed the same sentiments.

Although the lawsuit was not filed until 2013, questions about the song’s copyright were raised by a George Washington University law professor in 2008.

As reported;y discussed in the study, which was published by the Social Science Research Network, Professor Robert Brauneis concluded the song was “almost certainly no longer under copyright, due to a lack of evidence about who wrote the words; defective copyright notice; and a failure to file a proper renewal application.”

Per Judge King’s September ruling, “Happy Birthday to You” will become public domain when the settlement agreement is finalized and the “Happy Birthday” lawsuit is closed.

[Image via Shutterstock/Africa Studio]