In what should be seen as a victory for copyright in America – the Happy Birthday song is now, officially, pending future appeals, in the public domain.
From the LA Times:
None of the companies that have collected royalties on the “Happy Birthday” song for the past 80 years held a valid copyright claim to one of the most popular songs in history, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled on Tuesday.
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.
This may seem like not a big deal – but the implications are pretty huge. Whether or not anything will come from the upcoming class-action lawsuit to recoup fees that Warner / Chappell has collected for the past god-knows-how-many-years is yet to be seen. I think that it is enough that this overreach of copyright has been stymied, finally. And we can hope that with the threat of class-action suits against future overreach, that claims of copyright will have to be more thoroughly researched by the companies that are asserting these rights. Legal take down scare tactics just lost a bit of their punch.