| 28 Mar 2023
Warner Music to lose $2 million annually after 'Happy Birthday' becomes public property

MUMBAI: If you were worried about paying Warner Music a hefty license fee every time you played the track ‘Happy Birthday’, commercially, then you just might be able to breathe a sigh of relief, after the recent US Federal court verdict for the US market.

The summary judgement granted to filmmakers, who challenged Warner Music’s claim that it holds the rights to the track ‘Happy Birthday’, stated that the song is free of copyright. This comes as a big blow to the label, which will lose out on a whopping sum of $2 million each year in reported revenue from the track.

According to Billboard, the US district judge, George H. King opined, “Because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the Happy Birthday lyrics, Defendants, as Summy Co.’s purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics." However, the court also said that the judgement can take a U-turn if there is someone who comes in with a valid claim of ownership. In 2013, filmmakers like director Jennifer Nelson sued the label, which demanded as much as six figures to license the song so that it could be used for commercial purposes.

The song, ‘Happy Birthday’, dates back to the 19th century and involves the name of a school teacher, Patty Smith Hill, and her sister Mildred Hill. The publishing right of the song was given to Clayton Summy’s company. It was later reported that copyright registrations were made by Summy's company on the popular track, and Warner/Chappell claims that the 1935 registration covered both, the piano arrangement, as well as the lyrics.

If reports are to be believed, there is another ongoing dispute, in which the label is being asked to return millions of dollars, earned through licensing of the song.

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