Yesterday, the district court in Marya v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. invalidated one of the most famous, longest lasting, and controversial rights claims in music: Warner/Chappell’s ownership of the copyright in the universally known song Happy Birthday to You.
The following can be attributed to Raza Panjwani, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:
“The district court’s decision finding that Warner/Chappell Music never acquired the rights to the lyrics of Happy Birthday to You is a welcome victory for the public. Although this decision does not mean that Happy Birthday is unquestionably in the public domain, it dismantles Warner/Chappell’s unfounded claims of ownership.
“This decision also raises serious concerns as to how much of our culture remains under lock and key on the basis of flimsy or barely credible claims of ownership. Thanks to multiple extensions of copyright term length, copyrights have remained in effect while the records that can definitively answer questions of ownership or public domain status moulder away.
“The somehow ever-lasting term of the copyright in Happy Birthday’s lyrics has been the target of incredulous Supreme Court commentary, mocking disbelief on television sitcoms, and, of importance to this case, serious research into the provenance of the song.
“Unfortunately, few works have received the kind of in-depth study that Happy Birthday has, and the high cost of either litigating copyright ownership, or potentially violating copyright law, remain deterrents to eliminating other specious copyright claims.
“Nevertheless, yesterday’s decision is one worth celebrating.”
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