Warner To Pay $14 Million In 'Happy Birthday' Settlement; Plaintiffs Ask For Declaration That Song Is In Public Domain
from the finally-put-all-this-litigious-BS-to-rest dept
A large settlement is on the way in the “Happy Birthday” lawsuit. Eriq Gardner of the The Hollywood Reporter has the news:
According to a court filing on Monday, music publisher Warner/Chappell will pay $14 million to end a lawsuit challenging its hold on the English language’s most popular song, “Happy Birthday to You.”
This is indeed a large payoff, one that indicates Warner/Chappell is not willing to test the merits of its case in front of a jury. The merits of the case, of course, are pretty much some random assertions with little documentation to back them up, but assertions that have, nonetheless, allowed Warner to obtain an estimated $50 million in licensing fees over the years. The $14 million Warner will pay is roughly in line with what it expected to make during the remaining years of the copyright term.
Warners was expecting to have “Happy Birthday” under copyright until 2030. An IP valuation expert retained by the plaintiffs estimated that the song was to reap between $14 million to $16.5 million in the next 15 years.
$4.62 million will be headed to the plaintiffs’ attorneys with the rest being split among qualifying members of the class. But what’s far more interesting is what the plaintiffs have asked the judge to approve.
The Settlement includes an express agreement by Defendants and the Intervenors to forego collecting any more fees for use of the Song, saving the Settlement Class millions of dollars. In addition, if approved by the Court, by declaring the Song to be in the public domain, the Settlement will end more than 80 years of uncertainty regarding the disputed copyright.
As it stands now, the ownership of the song is still up in the air. Warner doesn’t own it but no definitive declaration has been made as to who holds the rights. Lots of people made the assumption that Warner’s lack of ownership = public domain, but that’s not what the court has determined to this point. If the court pursues this — and the information compiled to this point points to this conclusion — we could see “Happy Birthday” finally remanded to the public domain.
If the court decides this isn’t going to be part of the agreement, the song will still reside in legal limbo. All anyone will know for sure is that Warner won’t be coming after them for using the song. But the heirs of Patty and Jessica Hill — the sisters who wrote the lyrics — might. The charity run by the heirs has already entered a motion to intervene, claiming if Warner doesn’t own, then it does. If the judge declares the song to belong to the public domain, that’s $14-16 million the heirs won’t be collecting. It might go the plaintiffs’ way, considering the judge’s decision suggested the Hill’s abandoned the copyright years ago (and may not have actually written the lyrics, either). There’s a substantial amount of money at stake here and it’s highly unlikely the Hills’ heirs will let it go without a fight — even if it’s nowhere near certain they have any claim to the copyright at all.