Copyright laws are becoming a nuisance more and more these days. Hopefully it will become a thing of the past but for now people have to step gently around certain things except for one issue that has been debated now for well over 80 years. The claims by judge George H. King that Warner Music Group held the copyright after buying Birch Tree Group which supposedly held the rights to the Happy Birthday song are now considered to be invalid.
In a surprising twist of events that has gone on in the courts for decades this is great news for musicians, filmmakers, production companies, theater companies, and TV shows. The song is now considered public domain which means that anyone is free to use it in anything they want. The song can be played or sung in any production now without any consequences.
Warner/Chappell disputed this ruling but there is no sign that they will appeal the case, since they would have to get approval by the ruling judge. The plaintiff’s for the case said they will now move to file a class-action lawsuit against Warner/Chappell in an effort to get back all the money the group has been collecting from the past decades, which will amount in the millions.
The challenge for this song has a long drawn out history starting all the way back to 1893 when a school teacher, Patty Smith Hill, and her sister, Mildred J. Hill, wrote the song for her students. The title of the original song was, “Good Morning to All,” and later put into a song book that was published and copyrighted by the publisher, Clayton F. Summy Co.. Birch Tree Group was the successor to the publisher which held the copyright. That was all later challenged when the name of the song was changed and how the song actually came about.
The song brought in about $2 million for the Warner Group but that will all change now. If you look on YouTube chances are you will now find people using the song freely without any fear of a cease and desist letter and take-down notice. I, for one, am glad this issue has finally been resolved and the studios can stop going after people who sing the song in their home videos because of some stupid copyright issue. As I said in in an article a few posts back, companies need to consider fair use before going after someone for breaking copyright law. This is a great win indeed for a song that so many people know and sing every year in their life and now we will see it used more in movies once again.