News and Notes: Settlement Proposed in Happy Birthday Copyright Case

Happy Birthday Sheet Music

Now I’ve Heard Everything has been following Marya v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., the court case in which the validity of Warner/Chappell Music‘s claim of copyright ownership to the lyrics to Happy Birthday to You was contested.  Previously (see Now I’ve Heard Everything’s other posts about the case here and here), the court ruled that the defendants in this case “do not not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics.”  That ruling left a major issue outstanding, what would happen to the copyright licensing payments received by Warner/Chappell Music over the years.  Now the parties have submitted a proposed settlement to the court which would end the need for a further trial in this case, one which would have determined whether Warner/Chappell Music would be punished for collecting licensing fees for Happy Birthday to You.

The proposed settlement would provide refunds to those who previously licensed Happy Birthday to You from Warner/Chappell Music.  Those who licensed the song prior to 2009 would receive up to 15% of what they had paid, while those who licensed the song in 2009 or later would receive a full refund.  The refund pool consists of $14 million, less $4.6 million which would go to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

There is one more twist left in this case, though.  The proposed settlement would have the court declare that Happy Birthday to You is in the public domain.  The court had not gone quite that far in its September decision, and it will be up to the judge in this case to determine whether to do so now.  A hearing on the proposed settlement is scheduled for next month.

One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers in this case, Randall Newman, recently stated in an interview with Ars Technica that “I think there are a few other songs that we’re going to attempt to free up next.”  The defendant partly blamed an operating loss in its last quarter on expenses related to the Happy Birthday settlement.

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