Last month, Now I’ve Heard Everything ran a story about the the trial in which the copyright to the song Happy Birthday to You was being contested. Yesterday, a Federal court in California ruled that song was not protected by a copyright, at least not one claimed by the defendants here.
The case about the song, Marya v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., was brought by the producers of a film about the song who objected to the fee requested by Warner/Chappell to use the song. The parties all agreed that the melody was not covered by copyright. The primary issue before the court was whether the words to Happy Birthday to You were protected by a copyright owned by Warner/Chappell.
The 43 page decision of the court (which can be read in its entirety here) discusses the history of the creation of the song, and the convoluted history of the whatever copyright covered it. In the end, Judge George F. King ruled that the defendants in this case “do not not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics.”
However, this is not the end of this case. Other issues remain, including what becomes of the licensing fees for Happy Birthday to You collected by the defendants. There will also likely be an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals of this case once the trail court has finished with it.