Published Sep 23, 2015While ubiquitous party anthem "Happy Birthday" continues to make annual appearances at birthday celebrations everywhere, a copyright battle has been raging behind the scenes. Now, though, justice for candle-lighters and cake-eaters everywhere has been served, as a judge has deemed the track to be in the public domain.
Back in 2008, Robert Brauneis of George Washington University published a paper stating that Warner/Chappell was wrongfully copyrighting the popular tune, and arguing that the music publishing company was only raking in money for the song's use because nobody had taken it to court.
In 2013, documentary maker Jennifer Nelson attempted to explore the origins of the ditty in her film Happy Birthday to You, tracing it back to a song called "Good Morning to All" by Patty and Mildred J. Hill from 1893. The lyrics seem to have first appeared in 1911. The rights to the song were originally obtained by the Clayton F. Summy Co., then bought by Warner/Chappell in 1988.
The film project eventually led to Nelson filing a lawsuit against Warner for its wrongful copyrighting of the track, and yesterday (September 22), U.S. District Judge George H. King deemed "Happy Birthday" to be in the public domain.
King found that the original copyright only covered the piano arrangements and not the lyrics. The ruling reads: "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."
"Happy Birthday" has maintained its standing for having the most famous lyrics in the English language, according to Guinness World Records.
Warner is still able to appeal the decision, but for now, enjoy the recognizable singalong tune in the player below.