Paying Royalties to use the “Happy Birthday to You” Song

Most people assume that the infamous birthday song, “Happy Birthday to You” is an old song sitting in the public domain and therefore use of it is free. However not many of us knew that it is in actual fact owned by the American music publishing company, Warner/Chappel Music and anyone performing or singing the song in public actually owes royalty payments to Warner/Chappel Music.

Jennifer Nelson, a film producer, was told that she would have to pay $1,500 (£955) for the licence to use the “Happy Birthday to You” song in her new film. Nelson’s company, Good Morning to You Production Corps has brought a class-action complain lawsuit against Warner/Chappell Music, seeking to declare their ownership to the copyright of “Happy Birthday to You” invalid, that it should be for public use, and to return all unlawfully received licensing fees.

In the Statement of Claim, Good Morning to You Productions, to challenge the Warner/Chappel Music’s ownership of the song said that there has been “irrefutable documentary evidence, some dating to 1893, shows that the copyright to Happy Birthday to You, if there ever was a valid copyright to any part of the song, expired no later than 1921“.

Professor Brauneis, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said that “it is doubtful that ‘Happy Birthday to You’ is really still under copyright”.

The European copyright for Happy Birthday to You is set to expire n 2016, whereas Warner/Chappel Music’s copyright in the US will not be expiring until at least 2030. Should Nelson’s law suit succeed, everyone in America will be able to freely perform the world’s ubiquitous song, without potentially infringing anyone’s copyright.


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