Happy Birthday to all: Warner offers $14m to settle dispute

Global record company Warner Music has proposed paying up to $14 million to settle an on-going argument over the song Happy Birthday to You.

Warner Music and publishing arm Chappell Music filled a tentative settlement in the California federal court on 8 February and proposed they would relinquish their claim to the song and compensate those who have paid licence fees in order to use it.

The settlement also includes an order that the song should be officially in the public domain.

The three-year class-action lawsuit began when filmmaker Jennifer Nelson was asked to pay $1,500 in order to use the song in her documentary about the origins of the song.

In 2013 Ms Nelson challenged the current Warner’s copyright claim and sued in order to prevent them from collecting the fee.

In December an agreement was made, with negotiations made from both sides over the weeks since.

The deal is currently waiting for approval by US district court Judge George H. King, the hearing is scheduled for 14 March in Los Angeles.

In September Judge King ruled that Warner’s and Chappell Music did not hold valid copyright and never acquired copyright for the lyrics for the song – which has been recognised by Guinness World Records as the most famous lyrics written in the English Language.

The tune originally derived from sisters Patty and Mildred Hill’s “Good Morning to All”, which they wrote in the late 19th century. The lyrics were added later but the exact year is unknown, however the first reference was made in 1901 with the full song lyrics making an appearance 1921.

Happy Birthday to you, as well as other songs, were later allocated to the publisher Clayton F. Summy Co.

Warner and Chappell Music began to collect royalties for the song in 1988 following the purchase of the company that held the copyright and it is estimated that $2 million in royalties are collected in the US annually through the licensing fees.

Posted on February 10th, 2016 in Copyright

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