A “Happy Birthday” lawsuit is seeking millions. Technically, the copyright of the popular song is owned by Warner/Chappell Music. The fine for singing “Happy Birthday” in public, without permission, is currently $150,000.
Private citizens are rarely held to the copyright rule. However, if used on the radio, in television programs, or movies, Warner/Chappell Music demands payment of a $1,500 usage fee. The fee is small in comparison for fines associated with copyright infringement.
As reported by CNN, “Happy Birthday” was originally written and owned by Mildred and Patty Hill. In 1893, the rights to the song were purchased by Clayton Summy. Warner Music Group purchased Summy’s Company in 1998, assuming rights to the song.
The “Happy Birthday” lawsuit alleges that if anything Warner/Chappell owns rights to the piano arrangement, not the actual song.
The lawsuit was filed by Good Morning To You Productions. The film company is currently compiling a documentary film about the history of the birthday song. As they will feature the song in their film, they were forced to purchase the rights from Warner/Chappell Music for $1500.
They now want their money returned. Additionally, they want “Happy Birthday” returned to the public domain, where they say it rightfully belongs. As reported by The New York Times, the lawsuit also asks that all licensing fees collected in the last four years be returned. That would equal millions.
Robert Brauneis, of the George Washington school of Law, believes the song is already public domain. Warner/Chappell’s collection of fees may have been illegal. He further contends that the lawsuit “might be a model for challenges to other songs” in the future. Brauneis asserts that the copyright actually expired 1963.
“Happy Birthday” is sung by thousands of people every day. Most of them are likely unaware that they are violating a copyright. Unfortunately, use of the song can be a costly mistake.
The “Happy Birthday” lawsuit is asking the court to remove all restrictions of use from the popular celebratory song.
[Image via Wikimedia]