Happy Birthday litigation moves on

March 2014

Music publishing


You will probably remember the fact that ‘Happy Birthday to You” is now the subject of a lawsuit brought against the publishing arm of Warner Music Group, which claims copyright ownership in the song, which was registered in 1935. The complaint, from a disgruntled film producer who had to cough up $1,500 to use the track, was filed in federal court in Manhattan and claims that “Happy Birthday to You” has been in the public domain since at least 1921. The suit seeks class action status on behalf of anyone who paid a royalty to use “Happy Birthday to You” in the past four years. The song allegedly generates at least $2 million a year in licensing fees for Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. In their last filing, the plaintiffs claimed that the words were published in a variety of formats pre-1935, going back to 1893.  Well, Warners have now filed a status update which offers the first glimpse of some of the defences Warner may use. In it’s brief statement, Warner’s lawyers explain it’s on the plaintiffs to prove that the 1935 copyright registration “was not intended to cover the lyrics to Happy Birthday to You” saying: “Certificate E51990 applies on its face to a “published musical composition” entitled “Happy Birthday to You” and the listing under the byline is as follows: “By Mildred J. Hill, arr. by Preston Ware Orem; with words.” The certificate further states: “(© is claimed on arrangement as easy piano solo with text).” … All of this, as well as the validity of the copyright, is prima facie presumed true in this litigation. The parties have agreed to a schedule that has discovery on the copyright issue continuing through to September 2014. Once evidence is collected, the two sides will submit motions arguing their case in November. ArtsTechnica say that the parties appear to have agreed to litigate the copyright validity issue on the papers, without a trial.



No Comments

Comments are closed.