No more do you have to pay a royalty to Warner Chappell Music if you want to use the “Happy Birthday” song in public, in a film, or in your dining room! For most of us, it’s been an interesting bit of trivia that the song “Happy Birthday to You” was under copyright. But for filmmakers and others, it’s been a significant expense. In fact, Warner Chappell Music has been making millions of dollars on it. Well, no more.
US district judge George H King, in Los Angeles, has ruled the copyright claim invalid. The history of the song rights is something of a convoluted story, which you can read about in the LA Times or The Guardian. The bottom line, according the court ruling, is that the 1935 copyright claim applied to a specific arrangement of the song, not the tune itself. And the lyrics apparently were never copyrighted. Warner Chappell Music may be facing significant claims for refunds of the millions they’ve charged over the years.
Play it again and again, Sam! Play it in public!