Documentary About Freeing Happy Birthday From Copyfraud Comes Out The Day After Happy Birthday Officially Declared Public Domain

from the happy-birthday dept

You may recall that last fall, a judge ruled that Warner/Chappell did not hold the copyright on the song “Happy Birthday,” as the company had alleged for decades (and which it used to take in approximately $2 million in licenses per year). Of course, while many in the press immediately claimed the song was in the public domain, we noted that was not what the court actually said, and the song had actually become something of an orphan work, and theoretically, someone else could claim the copyright. Indeed, the heirs of Mildred and Patty Hill (who are often cited as the creators of the song) stepped up to claim the copyright. In December, all the parties agreed to settle the case with Warner agreeing to pay $14 million to go to some of the people who had falsely licensed the song. But, part of the settlement agreement was a stipulation that the song, finally, officially be declared in the public domain.

Last Thursday, the judge, George King, granted the settlement and officially declared Happy Birthday in the public domain:

If you can’t read that, it says:

The Court hereby declares that, as of the Final Settlement Date, the Song entitled Happy Birthday to You! will be in the public domain.

So now, after all this, it’s finally officially in the public domain.

And, right on cue, Jenn Nelson, the filmmaker who started to make a documentary about the song and eventually decided to challenge the copyright status on it, has put out a great 15-minute documentary about the fight to free Happy Birthday from the bogus copyright claims of Warner/Chappell. Watch it here:

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Companies: warner/chappell

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Comments on “Documentary About Freeing Happy Birthday From Copyfraud Comes Out The Day After Happy Birthday Officially Declared Public Domain”

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19 Comments
DannyB (profile) says:

But do you really want to take the risk?

Litigation is expensive and time consuming.

Anyone can sue you claiming to own some rights, even if they actually do not.(1)(2)

Any former copyright owner could claim some rights, even if they do not have any actual rights. They could claim some kind of “moral rights”, etc.(3)

Any insane copyright owner (4) could sue, because that’s just what they do.

It might just be safer never to use Happy Birthday To You.

Notes:
1. see collection societies who claim licensing fees for songs they do not even own.
2. see copyright owners who claim to own someone’s nature recording even though they actually do not.
3. see where Google properly secured the rights and licensed a song to use in an ad, paid handsomely to use it, and then was sued by the singer of the song, over some ‘moral right’
4. I might be being redundant?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: But do you really want to take the risk?

Fuck all of them and their asshole lawyers (even if said lawyers are in fact, not assholes) if they want to go to court and sue people over this.

It is in the public domain, its is fucking staying there, and they cannot do a fucking thing about it short of burning down the judicial system.

Scote (profile) says:

Happy, and a bit disappointed

Jenn Nelson’s accomplishment in freeing this song from fraudulent rent seeking by Warner music is awesome. The film though, was a bit of a let down. It was fine, and it distilled the issue down to just a few very digestible points, but it left so much interesting stuff out, like the last minute find in Warner’s own discovery materials that really proved that Warner was full of it.

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Ah, no. The German version use the same melody, the lyrics are “Zum Geburtstag viel Glück, zum Geburtstag viel Glück, zum Geburtstag liebe … Zum Geburtstag viel Glück!”.

That’s so close to the English lyrics I wouldn’t even give a copyright on it, because it’s not original enough. And I’ve also heard it in French and Italian. Same there.

Christopher Grotke says:

Worked for me - new content for the world

I took advantage of this and used a sound recording I made in the 1980’s to create a new animated cartoon for the occasion. Without this case and expected result, I wouldn’t have started.

(I started drawing when this case was first announced here at TechDirt, and finished this spring. A celebration of drawn animation and copyright law!)

Aliens’ Happy Birthday Message
https://vimeo.com/160542770

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