16 November 2015Copyright

Charity claims it owns ‘Happy Birthday’ copyright

A children’s charity has stepped into the heated copyright dispute surrounding the popular “Happy birthday to you” tune, claiming it is the correct owner of the lyrics’ rights.

The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) stated that Patty Hill, the claimed author of the song, granted the ownership of her intellectual property rights, including to the “Happy birthday” lyrics, to the charity.

The ACEI, a charity set up by Hill in 1892, intervened in the dispute on November 9 following the US District Court for the Central District of California’s September decision that Warner/Chappell, a record label, was no longer entitled to royalties to the song. Warner/Chappell has appealed against the ruling.

Warner/Chappell had claimed it owned the song’s copyright following the acquisition of music publisher Summy Co in 1935. In that year, Summy Co had registered the rights to the song with the US Copyright Office.

But in September this year, the court said that three agreements between Summy Co and Hill and her sister Mildred did not cover the transfer of the rights to the song’s lyrics, and therefore rejected Warner/Chappell’s ownership claim.

Patty Hill died in 1946, and the ACEI claimed that it is “very likely” that Hill does still have copyright protection for the lyrics.

In its filing to the court, the ACEI said: “Patty Hill bequeathed her entire estate to Jessica Hill [Patty Hill’s daughter] ... When Jessica Hill died, her entire estate ultimately went to ACEI, which included ownership in the Hill Foundation, as well as those same copyrights.”

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More on this story

23 September 2015   A US judge has ruled that the lyrics to “Happy Birthday to You” are not protected by copyright, finding against music publisher Warner/Chappell.
24 March 2015   A US court has heard arguments in a case that will decide whether the copyright protecting the song Happy Birthday to You is valid.