'Happy Birthday' copyright challenged
A documentary filmmaker is suing a publishing arm of Warner Music Group after the company charged her $1 500 to use the song Happy Birthday in her movie about the song’s history.
According to Courthouse News Service on Friday, the class action lawsuit was filed Thursday in New York by Good Morning to You Productions, which claims that Warner/Chappel Music was “wrongfully and unlawfully” claiming the copyright to the song.
If the claim is upheld in court, the music publishing giant could be forced to pay back tens of millions of dollars to companies who were forced to pay to use the song.
The lawsuit claims that the song was actually composed in 1893 as the kindergarten song Good Morning to You and that the original copyright expired no later than 1921.
Warner’s claims are based on a piano arrangement to the song that it copyrighted in 1935, and should be limited to that specific piano arrangement, the lawsuit claimed.
“More than 120 years after the melody — to which the simple lyrics of Happy Birthday to You is set — was first published, defendant Warner/Chappell boldly, but wrongfully and unlawfully, insists that it owns the copyright,” the plaintiffs wrote.
Warner reportedly acquired rights to the song when it paid 25 million dollars in 1988 to acquire Birchtree Lts, a small company that claimed ownership of the song. The company had not responded to the lawsuit as of late Friday.