Did you know that the song “Happy Birthday” is copyrighted by Warner/Chappell and you need to pay royalties to them if you wish to use it in your short film/documentaries/any other form of media? Well, this is no longer the case a US judge has ruled that “Happy Birthday” is public domain.

This particular lawsuit started back in 2013 when filmmaker Jennifer Nelson challenged the song’s copyright. Up till today, Warner/Chappell, a subsidiary of Time Warner, has stated that the song was copyrighted back in 1935. Copyrighting “Happy Birthday” has allowed Warner/Chappell to collect roughly GBP 1.4 million annually from the creative works sector such as movies and television shows. A 1990s documentary called Hoop Dreams famously paid USD 5,000 just to show a scene where the family members of the central character sang “Happy Birthday”.

Court rules that "Happy Birthday" is public domain 1

Now that the song is considered public domain, Warner/Chappell will now be required to pay GBP 9.6 million to two different groups who’ve licensed the song for their own use. For those who licensed “Happy Birthday” before 2009, they would be able to receive 15% of their original licensing fee as a refund. For those who licensed the song after 2009, they are entitled to a full refund of their licensing fee. The disparity in the payout is attributed to the statue of limitations.

With “Happy Birthday” now in public domain, Nelson’s lawyer Randall Newman is now focused on freeing up other copyrighted songs. “I think there are a few other songs that we’re going to attempt to free up next. I don’t want to say names,” says Newman.

Source : Ars Technica


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