One of the most recognizable songs in the English language is now available for everyone to sing — for free. A judge has approved a settlement that will put “Happy Birthday to You” in the public domain; ending a 3-year lawsuit over copyright issues. Music publishers earned as much as $2 million per year in licensing the commercial use of the popular tune. U.S. District Judge George King approved the agreement Monday, thus ending ownership claims by Warner/Chappell Music; the music publishing company that has been collecting royalties on the song.
“Sing it loud, sing it proud, and sing it for free,” declared a law firm which represented several plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit.
“This is a huge victory for the public and for the artists who want to use ‘Happy Birthday to you’ in their videos and music,'” attorney Daniel Schacht said.
The lawsuit against Warner/Chappell Music was filed in 2013 by a group of filmmakers making a documentary on the birthday song’s history, after they were charged US$1,500 for its use. The documentary filmmakers were joined by artists who have also paid to use the song and brought their complaint at a California court.
In September 2015, Judge King ruled that the song did not belong to Warner/Chappell.
Warner/Chappell Music has agreed to pay back $14M to those who have paid licensing fees to use the song.
Warner/Chappell Music, a global publishing arm of Warner Music, was earning as much as $2 million per year by licensing commercial use of the iconic tune. The song could be sung in private without infringing on copyright; however, the company charged royalties for the song’s use by commercial establishments such as restaurants, filmmakers, and even electronic gadgets such as electronic greeting cards and ring tones.
Mildred Hill, a US musician, composed the song in 1893 with her sister Patty Hill; a kindergarten teacher in Kentucky. Patty’s school children would sing the tune, originally titled “Good Morning to You.” The lyrics for the popular birthday song were added later.