10 December 2015Copyright

Parties celebrate as ‘Happy Birthday’ copyright dispute settled

A copyright lawsuit centring on the song “Happy Birthday to You” has been settled out of court.

Music publisher Warner/Chappell and a group of documentary makers, who had been disputing ownership of the song for more than two years, settled the dispute yesterday, December 9.

Details of the settlement have not been disclosed.

In September, Judge George King at the US District Court for the Central District of California said that Warner/Chappell could only claim copyright to certain melody arrangements of the tune, but not the lyrics.

The dispute can be traced back to 2013 when documentary maker Good Morning to You Productions sued Warner/Chappell at the California court.

Good Morning to You claimed that Warner/Chappell had collected millions of dollars in licensing fees for the song even though its origins are disputed.

The lawsuit was filed after the documentary makers were told to pay Warner/Chappell $1,500 to play the song in a documentary that it had made covering the history of the track.

The song, sung at birthday parties around the world, was originally composed by Kentucky-based sisters Mildred and Patty Hill in 1893 under the name “Good Morning to All”.

A manuscript, which included a melody to match the words from the ‘Good Morning’ version of the song, was later assigned to US music publisher Clayton Summy and his company Clayton F Summy Company.

However, it was not until 1911 that the birthday-related lyrics started being used in the song.

The first copyrighted version of “Happy Birthday” as it is now known was published by Summy’s company in 1935.

Warner/Chappell bought Summy’s company in 1998 and has maintained ever since that it assumed the song’s copyright dating back to 1935.

A spokesman for Warner/Chappell said: “While we respectfully disagreed with the court’s decision, we are pleased to have now resolved this matter."

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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.
28 July 2015   A film-making company working on a documentary about the song “Happy Birthday to You” has filed new evidence that “proves conclusively that there is no copyright” to the lyrics.
10 February 2016   Music publisher Warner/Chappell has agreed that “Happy Birthday to You” can enter the public domain and will pay out $14 million, in what has been described as a “historical result” by the film makers that brought the case.