Warner/Chappell Settles Happy Birthday Suit, Song Enters Public Domain
Warner/Chappell music has agreed to a settlement in the lawsuit over the copyright of “Happy Birthday to You,” just days ahead of the start of a trial to determine if the song is a part of the public domain. The lawsuit, filed in 2013 by a group of filmmakers, contended that the song should be in the public domain.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but a person with knowledge of the details told the Times that the entire case addressing the copyright and potential damages has been settled and that no appeals would be forthcoming.
The settlement comes just days after Judge George H. King of the Central District of California had raised the possibility that other plaintiffs may be eligible to file claims on back royalties paid to Warner/Chappell and the previous rightsholders Birch Tree and the Summy Co. dating back to 1949.
Warner/Chappell's claim to the beloved birthday tune was endangered last September when a judge ruled that Warner/Chappell or any of the other companies who've collected royalties over the years for Happy Birthday never had any rights to do so.
The song, originally penned in 1893 Patty Smith Hill, and her sister, Mildred J. Hill, has a murky copyright history at best. Warner/Chappell acquired the rights to the song from Birch Tree Group, the successor to Clayton F. Summy Co., which claimed the original disputed copyright. Warner/Chappell has claimed, based on on the 1935 copyright registration, that their copyright is good until 2030. The song may be the highest earning single in history, with one estimate putting copyright revenue for the song at $50 million.
A Warner spokesman told the Los Angeles Times, “While we respectfully disagreed with the court’s decision, we are pleased to have now resolved this matter.”