Everyone 'Settles' Happy Birthday Copyright Case… Leaves Plenty Of Questions Totally Unanswered
from the so,-uh... dept
Yesterday was actually my birthday… and apparently while I was celebrating returning to the same relative spot in the solar system, the folks arguing over the copyright on the song Happy Birthday agreed to settle the case. What’s lacking, of course, are details. There’s just a minute order in the docket:
MINUTE ORDER IN CHAMBERS re: Joint Status Report Regarding Settlement by Judge George H. King: The Court has been advised that the Parties Plaintiffs, Defendants, and the Intervenors have agreed to settle this case. Based on this development, the Court orders as follows: 1. The Parties are relieved from filing trial briefs and the joint exhibit list. 2. The bench trial set for Tuesday, December 15, 2015 is hereby VACATED and TAKEN OFF CALENDAR. No appearance is required at that time. 3. Within ten days hereof, counsel SHALL file a joint status report setting forth the Parties’ proposed steps, and timing of those steps, to effectuate the settlement. (Entered: 12/09/2015)
This follows on some events on Monday that I had been intending to write up, in which the judge (perhaps surprisingly) allowed people to try to get licensing fees back from Warner/Chappell going all the way back to 1949. Most people expected that the lawsuit would only allow a clawback of about three years worth — since that’s the statute of limitations. But the filmmakers argued that Warner/Chappell concealed the truth (that it didn’t hold the copyright). The judge didn’t necessarily accept that argument, but did say that the filmmakers could make that argument.
At the same time, the judge also allowed the charity — Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) — which represents the heirs of Patty and Mildred Hill, to intervene in the case. As you may recall, after the initial ruling, that charity suddenly raised its hand to claim that if Warner didn’t hold the copyright, then it did.
Unfortunately, by settling the case, things are left kind of up in the air. The song is still not officially in the public domain. The court has ruled that Warner doesn’t hold the copyright… but ACEI claims it does hold the copyright. This may mean that anyone else looking to use the song may have to go through another whole legal dispute. Some of the details of the settlement are likely to come out at some point soon (within 10 days when they have to file with the court, most likely), but the fact that there’s no final ruling on the public domain issue is unfortunate.