Happy birthday to all of us!: rights in “Happy Birthday” song decided in the USA

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Happy birthday to all of us!

It was my birthday on 14 September and along with my usual gifts, I was awaiting a USA judgment on the ‘happy birthday’ song. In a recent judgment in California, the lyrics to the song “Happy birthday” have been declared not to belong to Warner, a US company that has been demanding royalty payments for public performances of the lyrics for years.

Prior to this judgment, every public performance of the lyrics of the song, required a royalty to be paid to Warner. The music was not part of this judgment, already being considered in the public domain.

Evidence was key in this judgment, where the court looked at the ownership rules and duration of copyright in making its decision.

Now every family and friend celebrating a birthday of a loved one, in a public place, can rest easy, knowing that Warner cannot claim a royalty from them. Or can they? Some have argued that due to the lucrative nature of the song (and the lyrics thereto), there might be another “owner” (perhaps a relative of the original writers of the lyrics) lurking out there, ready to grab this lucrative Intellectual Property. Potentially, the copyright duration could extend well into the future.

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