A landmark decision by the U.S. District Court now releases one of the most played songs in modern history – HAPPY BIRTHDAY – into the public domain, and costing the previous copyright holder, Warner/Chappell Music a possible pay day of $2 Million Dollars per year.
The song was originally written by Mildred & Patty Hill, sisters, sometime prior to 1893. Through various changes of hands, the copyright made its way to Warner, one of the largest music publishers in the industry.
Film makers who were, ironically, making a documentary about the Happy Birthday song, wound up being the plaintiffs in an action filed to avoid the license payment of $1,500 to Warner for the use of the song in their film.
The judge ruled that, since the copyright holders never acquired rights to the lyrics of the song, but rather just the music, the current copyright to the song is not valid.
So, go ahead. Throw an epic birthday bash on the cheap. Light the candles. And sing your heart out. Right until the party’s over. That song you still have to pay for.