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Court rules against validity of "Happy Birthday "copyright

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    A documentary filmmaker who challenged the validity of the rights to the world’s favourite song has won a David vs Goliath court battle that could alter music publishing history.

     

    Contrary to public opinion, the words and lyrics to “Happy Birthday to you” have never been in the public domain. The rights have been owned by LA based Warner /Chappell who inherited them through the acquisition of a company called Birch Tree Hill in 1998 – who argued that the work was protected as long ago as 1935. It is thought that the song brings in over $2 million a year in licensing fees from films, TV and music.

     

    Rupa Marya is a musician who was asked to pay $450 for the rights to add to her album a live recording of her audience singing the song to her. She told CBS news “It seems ridiculous and it seemed like something that we should try to fight for”. She ended up being one of four plaintiffs in the federal judgement – and she’s understandably thrilled with the news:

    “This is an amazing example how ordinary citizens can take corporations to task for things when they overreach into places they don’t belong”.

     

    How does the ruling affect musicians?

     

    There are two aspects to this case which make it particularly interesting:

    1: The song’s melody can be traced back to Australian sisters Mildred and Patty Hill – and a published manuscript from 1893 (albeit with different lyrics – the original said “Good morning to all”). Why should their estate not continue to benefit from licensing fees? Certainly, the facts that the song is a) old and b) popular should have no legal bearing. If so, what’s the legal standing on lullabies?

    2. If Rupa Marya gets her money back, what’s to stop everyone who has ever paid for the rights to “Happy Birthday” claim their money back as well?

     

    What do you think? We’d love to hear your comments below…

The GMC Team UK
I Am David

Comments

2 comments
  • David Greenep and Rich Warrick like this
  • Rich Warrick
    Rich Warrick Surely its a song that has been written and people own songs that have been written.
    Does this now mean that if someone uses a song that i've written, they can take me to court if they don't want to pay for it?
    Wheres the line?
    23 September 2015
  • Mark  Hill
    Mark Hill Well there is a length of time where a piece of music becomes "traditional" and therefore in the public domain, like Bah Bah Black Sheep for example... But yeah, minefield.
    23 September 2015

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