"Happy Birthday" Copyright Ruled to Be Invalid

The Hollywood Reporter:

According to the opinion on Tuesday from U.S. District Judge George H. King, "Because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the Happy Birthday lyrics, Defendants, as Summy Co.’s purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics."

The ruling means that Warner/Chappell will lose out on $2 million a year in reported revenue on the song. Unless something happens at an appellate court or unless someone else comes forward with a valid claim of ownership to the song, filmmakers like director Jennifer Nelson — who sued in 2013 over demands as much as six figures to license — will no longer have to pay to feature "Happy Birthday" in motion pictures and television shows.

This dispute is hardly over. Among other things, the plaintiffs represented by attorneys including Randall Newman and Mark Rifkin are contending that Warner should have to return millions of dollars in licensing fees. The issue of damages will come later.


Whoa … though based on our previous posts on this case, we could've seen it coming.

If you make music specifically for film / TV licensing, then it might be a smart move to immediately start working on versions of "Happy Birthday" in different styles and genres. Just sayin'.


Update: ARS Technica goes into greater detail about the decision. This isn't a done deal just yet … apparently it ain't over until the fat lady sings "Happy Birthday". (sorry)

Update 2: Four Ways Musicians Can Make Money With Happy Birthday Now That It's In The Public Domain