Friday, June 14, 2013

"Happy Birthday" copyright ownership by Warner challenged in class action suit by filmmakers

Would you believe that you have to pay a $1500 licensing fee to use the song “Happy Birthday” in a film or show, or face a $150000  copyright suit from Warner Music Group.
However a documentary filmmaker has filed a class action suit, claiming the song is in public domain. Only in class action could the litigation proceed with reasonable cost.  Curiously, current press reports don't identify the fillmaker.  
Specific arrangements of the song would be copyrighted, but not the generic melody and words.  The song was originally called “Good Morning to You” when written by Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893.  Some complex legal technicalities  Warner/Chappell a claim of overship for 95 years from 1924.  A piano version was published in 1935.
Forbes has a story by Emma Woollacott, link here

The Social Science Research Network has a detailed paper by law professor Robert Brauneis at the George Washington University, “Copyright and the World’s Most popular Song”, abstract  here.  Brauineis recommends that copyright law needs a doctrine like “adverse possession”, which does happen in real estate.

On CNN, the "Legal Guys" hinted that the copyright may simply no longer be in effect, according to the best information, but it is still a bit unclear.

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