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.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 9 Dec 2015 @ 11:56am

    Happy Birthday Mike

    Happy Birthday Mike! Congratulations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 9 Dec 2015 @ 1:22pm

    I'm Hating on This So Much

    Geez. Let's just write up another song. It's such a simple, mindless song that we can surely conjure up another similar Public Domain version in a matter of minutes.

    But inventing a new song, and putting it in the public domain would NOT work, would it? Because people have learned the existing song, memorized it already. It's part of the fabric, part of our culture.

    It is, thus, the culture and the people that imbue that stupid little song with it's extraordinary value. The value comes from US. The incongruous notion of treating that value as Real Property, and as specifically the property of Warner/Chappell is bullshit.

    It is the public that has created the value in the song, and Warner/Chappell has made us pay them for the value we created.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      techflaws (profile), 9 Dec 2015 @ 1:51pm

      Re: I'm Hating on This So Much

      Let's just write up another song. It's such a simple, mindless song that we can surely conjure up another similar Public Domain version in a matter of minutes.

      Of course someone could but that's not the issue. The issue is that something that clearly should belong to everyone since it's already deeply ingrained in popular culture could be profited from by a company.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2015 @ 2:11pm

      Re: I'm Hating on This So Much

      Sing this to the tune of "Good Morning To You" (Public domain tune):

      Good Birthday dear Mike,
      Good Birthday dear Mike,
      We with you a merry birthday,
      Good Birthday to you!

      The "Good" is obviously from the original PD song, leaving only "Birthday" in the same position as the "Happy Birthday" song. Since this is an adaptation of "Good Morning To You" involving birthdays, this is to be expected.

      To be generous to the rightsholders of "Happy Birthday" I even removed the "to you" that it shares with the original song, except at the very end where it's the obvious fit.

      We Wish You a Merry Birthday is a folk adaptation of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" which the astute among you will realize shares the same tune and loose meter as "Happy Birthday" but is a folk carol from the 16th century (hmm... where did "Good Morning To You" come from, do you think).


      If you want something different, I offer you:

      "We wish you a happy birthday,
      We wish you a happy birthday,
      We wish you a happy birthday,
      And an excellent year!

      Best wishes to Mike,
      to you and your kin,
      We wish you a happy birthday,
      And an excellent year!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 9 Dec 2015 @ 3:38pm

      Re: I'm Hating on This So Much

      hoppy mirthday two moo
      (moo moo)
      hoppy mirthday two moo
      (moo moo)
      hoppy mirthday deer so-and-so
      hoppy mirthday two moo
      (moo moo)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2015 @ 5:35pm

      Re: I'm Hating on This So Much

      But inventing a new song, and putting it in the public domain would NOT work, would it?

      No, because there is no legal mechanism available (apart from killing off the author and waiting 70 years) by which anything can be put into the public domain.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BreadGod (profile), 9 Dec 2015 @ 1:32pm

    Happy birthday, Mike. Of course, it still sucks that the song is still not in the public domain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 9 Dec 2015 @ 1:53pm

    This may mean that anyone else looking to use the song may have to go through another whole legal dispute.

    Doesn't it rather mean anyone can use it now until one of the parties manages to proof they own the song (which seems unlikely now that all this info has come to light)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2015 @ 4:39pm

    Mike Masnick just hates it when copyright law is enforced. Bawk! :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2015 @ 5:39pm

    Most people expected that the lawsuit would only allow a clawback of about three years worth -- since that's the statute of limitations.

    Last I heard, the majority of districts have ruled that the statute of limitations for copyright infringement begins on the date that the infringement is discovered, not the date which it occurred. Any sane legal system would simply point to that and tell them to pay up. But in ours, that only applies to copyright infringement, not lying about copyright infringement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Dec 2015 @ 7:17pm

    In an 11th hour stay petition, PETA has claimed that the rights belong to Naruto and are seeking control of the income for "reasons".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Fin, 10 Dec 2015 @ 12:15am

    What would happen if someone registered the lyrics

    Happy berth day 2 u
    Happy berth day 2 u
    Happy berth day deer blah blah
    Happy berth day 2 u

    Sung to the good morning to you tune.

    It would be an intentional paradoy of happy birthday celebrating a deer purchasing a berth ...

    If that was sang surely that would wipe out the issue and make it a number 1 paraody over night.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JustMe (profile), 10 Dec 2015 @ 6:52am

    Gratz Mike

    Let's come up with another song, how about "Another day older and deeper in debt"? Surely that has to be unique, yes?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2015 @ 6:56am

    This comment is in violation of US Copyright laws (or not)

    The use of this copyrighted work is used under fair-use for commentary purposes.

    Happy birthday to you
    Happy birthday to you
    Happy birthday dear techdirt
    Happy birthday to you

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 14 Dec 2015 @ 5:36am

    Happy birthday to you
    Please don't take this as rude
    But till copyright's sorted
    I believe we are screwed!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.