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  • Denny Esford

Would you suspect the “Happy Birthday” Song of Copyright Infringement?

It’s that time of year, your friends and family meet you at a local restaurant to celebrate your birthday. Inevitably, the restaurant staff gathers around to sing Happy Birthday. But did you ever notice it wasn’t exactly the song you grew up singing at home? Ever wonder why?


Music publisher Warner/Chappell had previously claimed all copyrights to the song “Happy Birthday” until the year 2030 pioglitazone. But recently documentary film director Jennifer Nelson sued, claiming that the song should be in the public domain, and therefore licensing fees did not need to be paid to the publisher.


This suit sparked much debate. Was the song really in the public domain, or did Warner/Chappell have the copyright to it? Many people thought it had become public, as the length of the copyright was certainly exceeded, or because the copyright had been abandoned. Last September, a court agreed with Nelson, finding that the publisher never legally acquired the copyrights to the song.


Despite plans to appeal, Warner/Chappell instead agreed to a settlement. In addition to a monetary amount paid to the publisher, the highly unusual settlement also asks the Court to declare the song to be in the public domain going forward. Therefore, those who wish to use the song in future artistic works or “perform” the song in commercial settings will no longer have to pay a licensing fees to Warner/Chappell or anyone else .


In private settings, such as parties, we were always able to sing the traditional “Happy Birthday” song under a legal doctrine called “fair use.” Now, your favorite restaurant no longer needs to pay a performance license if they want to send you best wishes using that old familiar song.

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