The “Happy Birthday” song has finally entered the public domain after a federal judge ruled Warner Music’s copyright on the tune invalid.
Happy Birthday Song
Also known as “Happy Birthday to You,” the song was first protected under copyright by Patty and Mildred Hill who wrong the popular tune in 1889. The copyright for the song was first filed in 1935, and later purchased in 1988 by Warner Music – which has since collected around $50 million in licensing fees.
U.S. District Judge George H. King has ruled in favor of a group of independent filmmakers who claimed that the Hill sisters did not attempt to copyright the song when it was first written in 1889, and that it was already in the public domain when the first copyright was filed 46 years later.
Evidence presented included a 1922 songbook in which the song was included without any copyright notation.
Attorney Randall Newman expressed delight on behalf of the plaintiffs, noting “‘Happy Birthday’ is finally free after 80 years. Finally, the charade is over. It’s unbelievable.”
Warner Music has said that it is considering its options.
Because of the song’s previous copyright status, it has often been skipped in birthday scenes in movies in television in order to avoid having to pay licensing fees.