Suit: Let Us Sing 'Happy Birthday' for Free
Filmmaker wants to see song put in public domain
By Arden Dier, Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2013 6:42 AM CDT
The lawsuit, filed by Good Morning to You Productions, claims there is no valid copyright to the song, apparently owned by Warner/Chappell.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – A New York filmmaker is on a mission: To make what's regarded as the world's most often performed song one that can be belted out free of charge. Filmmaker Jennifer Nelson and her company, Good Morning to You Productions, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the publishing branch of Warner Music, which claims ownership of "Happy Birthday to You." She wants the song put in the public domain and Warner/Chappell to return the licensing fees it has earned off it—pegged at about $2 million a year, according her lawyer. Nelson herself paid Warner/Chappell $1,500 to use the song in a planned documentary about the tune, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Tech Dirt applauds the move as a long time coming, writing that "as we've been pointing out for years, the song is almost certainly in the public domain." It outlines a series of issues with the copyright, beginning with the fact that the sisters credited with writing it more than a century ago "appear to have written neither the music nor the lyrics." The complaint reads: "Irrefutable documentary evidence, some dating back 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." Click for the full complaint.

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Showing 3 of 17 comments
Jun 14, 2013 5:53 PM CDT
Will this filmmaker have a problem if her creation goes right into the public domain and she doesn't make a cent?
Jun 14, 2013 12:19 PM CDT
Disney will throw the full force of their legal division at this. They need copyrights and licenses to stand 125 years beyond the creation date. They get it increased every 25 years to protect Mickey Mouse.
Jun 14, 2013 10:03 AM CDT
There's some sloppy research. I remember years ago reading about the woman who wrote the song "Happy Birthday" and had the copyright to that song. She died some time ago. I believe it's the melody that's copyrighted.