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“Happy Birthday” Song Lyrics Ruling: No Copyright
September 23, 2015
Amanda Marie
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Following a legal debate that spanned eight decades on what the Guinness Book of World Records describes as the most famous song lyrics in in the English language, on Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the "Happy Birthday" song lyrics are not protected by copyright.

U.S. District Judge George H. King determined in his lengthy 34 page opinion, that the song’s original copyright, obtained by the Clayton F. Summy Co. from the song’s writers, sisters Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill, only covered the musical arrangement of the song, and not the lyrics.

Warner/Chappell purchased Birch Tree Group, the successor to Summy Co., in 1998 and has been collecting license fees for use of the song when used in various productions, television shows and movies. The revenue in royalties to the publisher Warren/Chappell for use of the song has been estimated to be about $2 million per year. Whether or not Warren/Chappell will now have to return those licensing fees will be determined at another time.

King's decision is a result of a lawsuit filed two years ago by Good Morning To You Productions Corp., which is working on a documentary film titled "Happy Birthday." The company challenged the copyright which was held by Warner/Chappell Music Inc., arguing that the song should be "dedicated to public use and in the public domain."

Personal use of the song was never at risk for lawsuit, so for those of you who tried desperately over the years to convince family and friends that they couldn’t sing the song to you because it was copyright protected, you’ll no longer be able to use that excuse and you’ll just have to tolerate the singing no matter how horrible it may sound.

For the full history and background of the song composition and lyrics, you can refer to the judge’s opinion linked above.

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