Judge Rules "Happy Birthday to You" Lyrics Not Subject to Copyright

10/02/2015 | Business Litigation

A federal judge ruled this week the lyrics to "Happy Birthday to You" were not subject to copyright.  Warner/Chappell Music claimed to own copyright to the song in a lawsuit filed against them.  The suit was filed to have the copyright removed to make the song public domain.  The judge ruled Warner/Chappell only had a valid copyright to the various piano arrangements, not the actual lyrics to the song.  In 1935 the first copyright only copyrighted the music, not the lyrics, so Warner/Chappell never had a valid copyright on the lyrics.

The original copyrighter Summy Co. in 1935 never acquired the rights to the "Happy Birthday" lyrics, so their predecessors do not own a valid copyright.  Warner/Chappell collects about $2 million per year in licensing fees from the song.  The lawsuit now seeks to have Warner/Chappell to return all of the money it has wrongfully collected under a claim of copyright ownership.