The ‘Happy Birthday’ song has been thought to be copyrighted since 1935 by music company Warner/Chappell, who purchased the rights to the song in 1988, but new evidence suggests that the song’s origins can be traced back as early as the 1920s.
Filmmaker Jennifer Nelson was made to pay Warner/Chappell royalties of $1,500 to use the song in a documentary titled “Happy Birthday”. In a class action against the company, lawyers say that a newly discovered songbook, “The Everyday Song Book” published by The Cable Company published in the1920s would mean that the ‘Happy Birthday’ song has been in the public domain since in the 1950s.
If the plaintiffs are successful, Warner/Chappell may be liable for the millions of dollars in licensing fees, which have been collected over the decades. The case could mean that the song will soon be free for the public, publishers and advertisers to use and perform.
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