A US federal judge has ruled that the world’s most popular song Happy Birthday To You is not subject to any copyright and belongs to the public, reports said.
According to the LA Times, a judge in Los Angeles said on Tuesday that the companies that have collected royalties on the song for the past 80 years did not hold a valid copyright claim to it.
The LA Times said judge George H King ruled that Warner/Chappell never had the right to charge for the use of the Happy Birthday To You song. Warner had been enforcing a copyright since 1988, when it bought Birch Tree Group, the successor to Clayton F Summy Co, which claimed the original disputed copyright.
King added that a copyright filed by the Summy Co in 1935 granted only the rights to specific piano arrangements of the music, not the actual song.
He was responding to a suit brought against Warner/Chapell, which makes an estimated $2 million a year from the copyright, by a group of filmmakers who are producing a documentary about the song.
“’Happy Birthday’ is finally free after 80 years. Finally, the charade is over. It’s unbelievable,” Randall Newman, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the suit, was quoted as saying by the daily.
A spokesperson for Warner/Chappell, the publishing arm of Warner Music told the LA Times that they are looking at the “court’s lengthy opinion and considering our options”.
Until now anyone who anyone who wanted to sing or play the song commercially had to cough up a royalty to the music publishers.
The song was written in 1893 by a Kentucky schoolteacher Patty Smith Hill and her older sister Mildred J Hill. They wrote the song for Patty’s kindergarten students, titling it Good Morning To All and the original lyrics were: “Good morning to you/Good morning to you/Good morning, dear children/Good morning to all.”