"Happy Birthday" ruled out of copyright
23 September 2015
The company that collects royalties to "Happy Birthday To You" does not hold a valid copyright to the song anymore. Now a US federal judge has ruled.
Warner/Chappell acquired the copyright - which was originally filed in 1935 - in 1988.
However Judge George King ruled that the original copyright was only granted for specific arrangements of the music, not the song itself.
Back in 1893, the tune was composed by two Kentucky sisters.
Mildred and Patty Hill called their version Good Morning To All, which later evolved into the world-wide known birthday song version, that people sing on parties.
In 2013 the case against Warner/Chappell was launched by Rupa Marya and Robert Siegel, who are making a film about the song.
The music publisher asked for $1,500 (£970) for the right to use "Happy Birthday To You" in the film.
However Ms Marya and Mr Siegel argued the song was in the public domain and should not be subject to copyright fees.
Judge King ruled that Summy had never acquired copyright to the song's words.
"The Hill sisters gave Summy Co the rights to the melody, and the rights to piano arrangements based on the melody, but never any rights to the lyrics," he said.
Back in the 1980s, when Warner\\\\Chappell bought a successor company to Summy, the rights to the song were also eventually purchased by Warner/Chappell for $25m (£16m).
Over $2m a year is the profit for Warner/Chappell from royalty payments whenever the song is used in a film, television episode, advertisement or other public performance.
"We are looking at the court's lengthy opinion and considering our options," Warner/Chappell said, after the ruling was announced.