(PCM) A federal judge has now ruled that the world-famous “Happy Birthday” song is in the public domain. U.S. District Judge George H. King ruled that the music publishing company that has been collecting royalties for years on the song “Happy Birthday To You” does not hold a valid copyright to the tune.
The judges ruling claims that the original copyright filed by Clayton F. Summy Co. in 1935 on included the rights to specific arrangements of the song, but not the actual song itself. The ruling therefore invalidates the original copyright, as it seems Summy never obtained the rights to the songs lyrics.
In later years, Summy was purchased by Birch Tree Group, who were then purchased by Warner/Chappell Music which is the company that has been enforcing the copyright claim on the song for all these years. It is said that “Happy Birthday To You” brings in about 2 million dollars annually for Warner/Chappell, who obviously can’t be too happy with the judge’s historic ruling. Now that the song is public domain it means that anyone is free to use the song and royalties will no longer go to Warner/Chappell whenever it is played!
There has been a lengthy battle over the rights to “Happy Birthday To You” for over 120 years and many are thrilled to see it finally be set free of all the legal issues. Many films, TV shows and stage productions have had to pay Warner/Chappell thousands of dollars in royalties to use the song, and the outrageous royalty fees are the number one reason that so many chain restaurants were forced to come up with their own creative spin for a birthday song because Warner/Chappell threaten those establishments with copyright infringement if they were caught using the actual “Happy Birthday To You Song”.
The song was originally written by a Kentucky schoolteacher Patty Smith Hill and her sister Mildred Hill. The original lyrics were set around the phrase “good morning to you” rather than “Happy Birthday to you.”