Earlier this year we wrote about the then-pending lawsuit over the world’s most famous song: “Happy Birthday”. (See http://tinyurl.com/osa69p3). Here is a short summary of the lawsuit at that point in time:
The song “Happy Birthday” represents a multi-million dollar business, but here’s the question: is the song in the public domain and essentially free for anyone to use without paying royalties to a music publisher? That question was pressed in a federal court in Los Angeles where a small documentary film production company named Good Morning to You Productions (“Good Morning”) 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 claimed 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 believed it had uncovered evidence that shows that the song was injected into the public domain back in the 1920s. But Warner-Chappell disagreed and fought hard to hold onto its copyright claim and rights to the song which reportedly generated about $2 million a year in royalties for Warner-Chappell.
Yesterday the court ruled and determined that the song IS essentially in the public domain and available for use for free. That’s probably GREAT news for the world – sort of. Why do I write “sort of”? Because now we’re probably going to be inundated by hyperbolic waitpersons at restaurants like Chuck E. Cheese and Buca di Beppo singing “Happy Birthday” to customers at the top of their lungs multiple times a night.
Nevertheless, here is a good article about yesterday’s court decision: http://tinyurl.com/q3dfmsuThe hundred year history of the song is somewhere between complicated and fascinating – but it makes for great reading. So the next time you hear “Happy Birthday” ina public place like a restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask the waiters how long it’s been since they were able to sing the song.