Good Morning to You Productions Corp., a production company working on a documentary about the song, sued Warner Chappel Music in New York federal court in June 2013, claiming that “Happy Birthday to You” was first copyrighted in 1893 and thus is long past expiration. The suit alleges Warner/Chappell had unlawfully collected millions of dollars in licensing fees for the tune by claiming it holds the exclusive right to control distribution, performances and reproductions of it. Good Morning to You said it had filed suit in response to Warner/Chappell’s demand that it pay a $1,500 licensing fee to use the song in a documentary about the history of the song.
Well yesterday, September 22, 2015, a California Federal judge agreed, and ruled that Warner Chappel’s copyright is invalid, except with respect to a narrow piano arrangement of music to accompany the song. U.S. District Judge George H. King found that Warner had never acquired the rights to the song’s lyrics, according to Tuesday’s decision. In copyright records, court records and several agreements over the use of the song, nowhere was there discussion of the lyrics to “Happy Birthday,” according to the decision. Some records mention the melody or piano arrangement, but not the words to the song, the judge said.
This means that video game developers can use the song “Happy Birthday to You” without fear of the Warner Chappel Music Police sending you a nasty-gram, demanding a royalty. The case is Good Morning to You Productions Corp. et al v. Warner Chappell Music Inc. et al., case number 2:13-cv-04460, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.