by Doug Zanes | Last Updated: October 8, 2015


Well sort of…

It’s a very happy birthday for all the people paying into the forever present and sometimes revised “Happy Birthday” song since 1988..

It’s a very merry “un” birthday for the company that has collected royalties since 1988 for use of the “Happy Birthday” song…

According to U.S. District Judge George King, Warner/Chappell Music Inc. did not have a valid copyright…

Birthday’s over folks…For the company at least…

Judge King ruled against Warner/Chappell Music Inc. on Tuesday, report the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Hollywood reporter’s THR Esq. and the Los Angeles Times…

A bit of a party ruiner, no?

The decision (see it in PDF form) represents “a stunning reversal of decades of copyright claims,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Warner/Chappell collects a cake full of $2 million each year in licensing fees for the song, according to estimates in a 2010 study of the song by George Washington University law professor Robert Brauneis…

At issue in the case was the copyright to the song lyrics; the melody had already entered the public domain and thus is open, free and clear, for the public.

A filmmaker making a documentary about the song, Jennifer Nelson, had challenged the copyright after Warner/Chappell said she would have to pay a $1,500 licensing fee for the music.

Chappell/Warner had argued it “acquired the copyright to the lyrics when is purchased a successor company to the Summy Corp., which acquired the rights from Patty and Mildred Hill, two sisters who wrote the song. Summy registered the copyright in 1935.”

King said the sisters had transferred to Summy only the rights to the melody and to specific piano arrangements for the Happy Birthday song

And the wretched birthday party isn’t over yet…

A lawyer for the plaintiffs Mark Rifkin, said he would ask the judge to certify a class action on behalf of those who have paid licensing fees.

This company can cry if it wants too…after all it was their party for over three decades.

As personal injury attorneys in Phoenix we tend to enjoy reading about interesting cases a little too much! We hope you enjoy hearing about them too!

PS- HAPPY BIRTHDAY to anyone reading this post TODAY 🙂


Doug Zanes: Founding Attorney Raised in Douglas, Arizona, and went to college at Arizona State University and graduated from law school at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas. Doug began practicing law in Phoenix Arizona in 1997.
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