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Finally, we can all eat of the “Happy birthday” cake

December 11, 2015

You may recall my article on the “Happy Birthday” song and its related law suit in the United States: http://www.rmtucker.co.za/happy-birthday-to-all-of-us-rights-in-happy-birthday-song-decided-in-the-usa/

It appears that as of 9 December 2015 (or there abouts), the law suit seems to have been settled. The settlement may have been prompted by the judgment I refer to in my article above, wherein the judge held that Clayton F Summy Co, a predecessor of Warner/Chappell only held the rights to a certain arrangement of the melody and not the lyrics. The court ruled that Warner/Chappell did not have a proper and valid claim to copyright in the song. Furthermore, a recent ruling by King on Monday granting the plaintiffs application to widen the class of members from members who had paid a royalty to use the song after 2008 to anyone who had done so after 1948 – a significant extension of the class.

Obviously, from a financial perspective, the above could be devastating for Warner/Chappell, having to go back 65 years and allowing individuals and entities who had paid royalties to use the song all the way back to 1948 to have claims against them to get these royalty payments back from Warner/Chappell. That is certainly not something the Warner/Chappell business would want to have looming.

A Warner/Chappell representative issued a statement to the effect that although they disagreed with the judgment, they felt the best option for them was to settle the matter and have it finally resolved. You can understand such a statement based on the above.

ACEI, a charity intervened in the case, saying that if Warner/Chappell did not own the copyright in the song, then it did. ACEI was also included in the settlement terms. Commentators have said that the fact that ACEI was included in the settlement, suggests that it strongly likely that the song will be placed in the public domain – for all to use without the necessity for payment of a royalty. This is all hoping that the settlement does not allow Warner/Chappell to continue to draw royalty fees (which was the point of the law suit in the first instance), commentators have said, the song is likely to fall into the public domain.

It is a pity for me, others and readers that we cannot peruse the terms of the settlement, as it is between the parties. I would love to know how it reads.

 

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