Last night in Los Angeles, Judge George H. King ruled in Federal Court that copyright claims for the song “Happy Birthday” are invalid—reversing decades of copyright claims.
King ruled that the song’s recent owner, music pubisher Warner/Chappell, never had the right to charge for the use of the song. Warner/Chappell had been enforcing a copyright since 1988, when it bought Birch Tree Group, the successor to Clayton F. Summy Co., which claimed the original copyright.
This copyright was not put into question until 2013, when Jennifer Nelson was filming a documentary movie about the history of the “Happy Birthday” song and filed a lawsuit asking the court to find that the song is in the public domain and seeking class-action status to compel the company to return millions of dollars in royalty fees.
In court documents, King wrote that “because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the ‘Happy Birthday’ lyrics, [Warner/Chappell], as Summy Co.’s purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the ‘Happy Birthday’ lyrics.”
For more on the history of the song and the ongoing court case, click HERE.