We’ve all heard it just about every year since the day we were born. We also hear it all throughout the year whenever we attend somebody else’s birthday party or celebration. But beyond feeling like it’s part of the fabric of our society – and something that belongs to the public – the song “Happy Birthday” represents a multi-million dollar business and is the subject of a (semi)-fascinating lawsuit that asks the following question: is the song “Happy Birthday” in the public domain and is it therefore free for anyone to use? That question is being asked and is probably about to be answered in a federal court in Los Angeles where a small documentary film production company named Good Morning to You Productions (“Good Morning”) is engaged in a full-scale lawsuit against Warner-Chappell Music, the music publishing arm of the much larger Warner Music Group.
Good Morning is making a documentary about the song. Warner-Chappell claims that Good Morning – and just about anyone else who wants to use the song in a commercial context (e.g., films, tv shows, commercials, musical greeting cards, etc.) – needs to pay for the rights to use the song. Good Morning believes it has uncovered evidence that shows that the song was injected into the public domain back in the 1920s. But Warner-Chappell disagrees and is fighting hard to hold onto its copyright claim and rights to the song which reportedly generates about $2 million a year in royalties for Warner-Chappell.
If this topic interests you, this article does a great job of describing the history behind the writing of the song and who owns what: http://tinyurl.com/p3xrm6e