The "Happy Birthday" song, one of the most popular songs in history, has been in copyright for the past 80 years. Yesterday, that all ended.
In a dramatic turn of events, Judge George H. King ruled that the copyright filed by the Clayton F. Summy Co. provided a copyright over the specific piano arrangements of the music, not the actual song. Warner Chappell acquired the rights (or at least they thought they did) to the "Happy Birthday" song when they purchased the Birch Tree Group, the successor to the F. Summy Co. Since the time Warner Chappell purchased the Birch Tree Group, they have been generating a revenue of approximately 2 million dollars a year in enforcing the "Happy Birthday" song copyright. Now that Judge King's ruling invalidates the copyright they thought they had, Warner Chappell is left struggling to find a solution.
What Happens to "Happy Birthday" Now?
Warner Chappell's legal team is hard at work figuring out their next move. While they will likely appeal this decision, it is unclear as to what will be the result. If Warner Chappell is unsuccessful in their appeal, it is likely that the song will enter into the public domain.
The public domain is a collection of works that have had their respective intellectual property rights expired, forfeited, or made inapplicable. A work that is within the public domain may be used by any and all people or companies as they see fit, without having to pay a licensing or royalty fee. Intellectual Property Laws were created to give creators incentives to keep creating by giving the creator a monopoly of rights. It was never the intention for such monopoly to be permanently given, and once the duration of the protection expired, it would enter the public domain to be free for everyone to enjoy.
Julian Cordero is an Attorney, Music Producer, and Entrepreneur. Oh and he blogs too! Julian is licensed to practice law in New York and is the Managing Member of Cordero Law LLC, a New York City based law firm focusing on Business Law, Entertainment Law, and Intellectual Property.