You may recall that last fall, a judge ruled that Warner/Chappell did not hold the copyright on the song “Happy Birthday,” as the company had alleged for decades (and which it used to take in approximately $2 million in licenses per year). Of course, while many in the press immediately claimed the song was in the public domain, we noted that was not what the court actually said, and the song had actually become something of an orphan work, and theoretically, someone else could claim the copyright. Indeed, the heirs of Mildred and Patty Hill (who are often cited as the creators of the song) stepped up to claim the copyright. In December, all the parties agreed to settle the case with Warner agreeing to pay $14 million to go to some of the people who had falsely licensed the song. But, part of the settlement agreement was a stipulation that the song, finally, officially be declared in the public domain.
Last Thursday, the judge, George King, granted the settlement and officially declared Happy Birthday in the public domain:
If you can’t read that, it says:
The Court hereby declares that, as of the Final Settlement Date, the Song entitled Happy Birthday to You! will be in the public domain.
So now, after all this, it’s finally officially in the public domain.
And, right on cue, Jenn Nelson, the filmmaker who started to make a documentary about the song and eventually decided to challenge the copyright status on it, has put out a great 15-minute documentary about the fight to free Happy Birthday from the bogus copyright claims of Warner/Chappell. Watch it here: