Copyright law was one of the biggest talking points in music news recently when film-maker Jennifer Nelson discovered that one of the most well-known and instantly-recognisable songs ever, ‘Happy Birthday to You’, is not in the public-domain and that the rights are held by Warner/Chappell. This means that anybody who wants to use the song on the TV or in a film has to pay a licence fee.
Nelson’s company, Good Morning To You Productions, was told to pay $1,500 in order to use the song in a documentary about the song itself. In response they filed a lawsuit against Warner/Chappell and suggested that any copyright, “if there ever was a valid copyright to any part of the song”, expired in 1921. Warner/Chappell, on the other hand, claim that the European copyright expires in 2016 and that in the USA it remains in place until 2013.
Good Morning To You are asking that the song to be liberated into the public domain, and that Warner/Chappell return all licensing fees – estimated to be as much as $50 Million. The case is ongoing.
Considering that ‘Happy Birthday to you’ has been cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most recognised song in the English language it will be interesting see the outcome of the case in due course.