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
Today's Unusual Lawsuit Over 'Happy Birthday'
The lawsuit, filed by Good Morning to You Productions, claims there is no valid copyright to the song, apparently owned by Warner/Chappell.   (Shutterstock)

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. (Read more Happy Birthday stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.