The director filed a lawsuit on the right to use the song “Happy Birthday” without royalties
The television and film industries have long been pressured by Warner / Chappel Music, Warner’s daughter, to pay money for the rights to use the song “Happy Birthday”, probably the most popular song in the world. As an example, the creators of the critically acclaimed documentary “Hoop Dreams” (Basketball Dreams, 1994) had to pay $ 5,000 per scene when the family of one of the main characters just sang a song. In 1996, Warner / Chappel earned more than $ 2 million in license sales.
Recently a new documentary was released about the history of this song, and, of course, the filmmakers had to pay deductions, which amounted to 1,500 dollars.
But everything comes to an end. Yesterday, Good Morning To You, the company that made the documentary, filed a lawsuit in federal court, providing evidence that the Happy Birthday license has no right to life. The words of the song are very similar to the song "Good Morning to All", which was published in a collection of songs for kindergartens in 1893. The lawsuit contains a large number of similar examples of the use of this text in various sources that appeared before 1935, when the rights to the song were registered.
Earlier evidence was also provided that the license was fictitious. For example, in 2010, as a result of an extensive study conducted at George Washington University, it was concluded that "it is almost certain that copyright for a song should be canceled, since there is no evidence of who wrote these words specifically." In the Eldred v. Ascroft trial, Supreme Court Judge Stefan Breyer cited this song as an example when he criticized the endless renewal of copyright licenses, noting that the song is based on a melody documented in 1893.
The plaintiff hopes that all those who have taken the illegal deductions from June 13, 2009 to the present, will receive a check from Time Warner.
“Before I started my directorial career, I never thought that anyone could own this song,” says Jennifer Nelson in an interview with The New York Times. “I thought she belonged to everyone.” Jennifer is captured in a photograph for an article in the New York Times, holding a 1924 songbook, which also includes the song "Happy Birthday."
Supporters of copyright reform were outraged by the licensing of “Happy Birthday,” and now a decisive moment is coming that should dot all the “i's.” A full lawsuit is available on Techdirt .