Warner’s been collecting about $2 million a year in royalties off the Happy Birthday song. They can’t sing it on TV or in a movie without paying for it — now it turns out they never owned it in the first place, and they knew it! It was in the public domain:
The filing also notes that while the copyright on the compilation for the 1922 and 1927 publications could only cover the overall compilation, rather than the individual works, even so both copyrights have long since expired, so Warner/Chappell can’t even claim that the copyrights for either compilation now lead to the copyright today.
In other words, there’s pretty damning conclusive evidence that “Happy Birthday” is in the public domain and the Clayton Summy company knew it. Even worse, this shows that Warner/Chappel has long had in its possession evidence that the song was at least published in 1927 contrary to the company’s own claims in court and elsewhere that the song was first published in 1935. We’ll even leave aside the odd “blurring” of the songbook, which could just be a weird visual artifact. This latest finding at least calls into question how honest Warner/Chappel has been for decades in arguing that everyone needs to pay the company to license “Happy Birthday” even as the song was almost certainly in the public domain.
Aug 1st, 2015 at 11:00 am by susie