'Happy Birthday' Lawyers Score $4.6M in Fees

Judge awards money after copyright case
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2016 1:39 PM CDT
File photo of a birthday cake, in this case for Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi.   (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

(Newser) – The lawyers who helped bring the song "Happy Birthday" into the public domain will be handsomely rewarded. A judge this week awarded the legal team $4.6 million after last year's successful copyright lawsuit, reports Courthouse News Service. The money will come out of a $14 million class-action settlement being paid by music publisher Warner/Chappell. In the case, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson sued the company after it charged her a $1,500 licensing fee for including the song in her film about its origins. A federal judge ultimately concluded that Warner/Chappell's claim on the copyright of the famous tune was dubious.

US District Judge George King ruled this week that her lawyers deserved $3.85 million for their work, plus a bonus of sorts. "Given the unusually positive results achieved by the settlement, the highly complex nature of the action, the risk class counsel faced by taking this case on a contingency-fee basis, and the impressive skill and effort of counsel, we conclude that a 1.2 multiplier is warranted," wrote King, per Ars Technica. Most of the research into byzantine copyright law was done by attorney Randall Newman, who clocked 2,193 hours at $640 per hour. He and his team are now pushing to free up other songs, including "This Land Is Your Land." (Read more Happy Birthday stories.)

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