Warner/Chappell Music Inc. does not own a valid copyright on “Happy Birthday To You,” a California federal judge ruled Tuesday in a class action decision that plaintiffs’ attorneys say puts the world’s most recognizable English language song into the public domain.
In a stunning reversal of decades of copyright claims, the judge ruled that Warner/Chappell never had the right to charge for the use of the "Happy Birthday To You" song. Warner had been enforcing a copyright since 1988, when it bought Birch Tree Group, the successor to Clayton F. Summy Co., which claimed the original disputed copyright.
Judge George H. King ruled that a copyright filed by the Summy Co. in 1935 granted only the rights to specific piano arrangements of the music, not the actual song.
"'Happy Birthday' is finally free after 80 years," said Randall Newman, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the suit, which included a group of filmmakers who are producing a documentary about the song. "Finally, the charade is over. It's unbelievable."
A spokesman for Warner/Chappell, the publishing arm of Warner Music, said, "We are looking at the court's lengthy opinion and considering our options."
— Sources: Law 360, Los Angeles Times
— Photo credit: Marilyn Monroe blows out the candle on her 30th birthday cake. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis