Happy Birthday in the public domain

Published onAugust 2016

Last year, we commented decision by US District Judge George H. King according to which Warner/Chappell Music Inc. could not claim copyright ownership over the lyrics from the famous song Happy Birthday.

Technically, it did not mean that the lyrics were in the public domain. It only meant that Warner/Chappell did not own a valid copyright in them.

As a consequence, Warner/Chappell was being sued for unduly enforcing their copyright in the lyrics, i.e. for unduly collecting royalties, for several years.

Last June, Judge King approved a settlement according to which Warner/Chappell is to pay back $14 million to those who have paid licensing fees to use the song during the previous five decades.

In a way, Happy Birthday is now officially in the public domain but it does not mean it is free for everyone.