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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 11:12am

    I still think the best part is on Teen Titans Go when the Titans wanted to sing Happy Birthday to Beast Boy. Robin loudly declares, "We do not have the budget for that song!" Which is notable since Warner produces Teen Titans Go. I guess Warner knew they were going to get into trouble in this one.

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

  2. icon
    Matthew (profile), Feb 9th, 2016 @ 11:27am

    Sing it - you know the tune...

    This is long overdue
    This is long overdue
    Fuck Warner Music
    And the *AAs too

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 12:03pm

    so why not 'stick it to Warner' in the same way it would/does when the shoe is on the other foot? charge them $150,000 per infringement, multiplied by the number of years, multiplied by any number that can be pulled out of your ass, just as it would have done and arrive at an answer so outlandish, it belies comprehension? giving Warner a taste of it's own medicine could have been the best thing that could ever have happened to it. it would perhaps have made it realise exactly how ridiculous it is when suing others!!

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

  4. icon
    DannyB (profile), Feb 9th, 2016 @ 12:48pm

    What is really disgusting

    It is disgusting that a song that has questionable copyright, lyrics from one, melody from another; and was published in a children's songbook, long ago, is now the subject of a squabble for millions of dollars.

    More money than was probably conceivable to whoever first wrote either the lyrics or melody.

    Moreover, the original authors may not have been particularly greedy.

    But look what Copyright does. Promoting the useful arts and sciences.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 12:56pm

    Happy Payday, Mark Rifkin, Happy Payday Mark Rifkin,Happy Payday Mark Rifkin, You sure raked it in.

    And now we end up with Mark Rifkin, and his associates making a cool $4.62 million off the back of happy birthday - which will make these lawyers almost certainly the highest paid recipients from the song in it's long history.

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 1:00pm

    Re: Happy Payday, Mark Rifkin, Happy Payday Mark Rifkin,Happy Payday Mark Rifkin, You sure raked it in.

    And if everybody who has paid to use the song in the past lines up to collect they'll be getting pennies to the dollar back. $10 million cannot pay back $50 million.

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

  7. icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 9th, 2016 @ 1:01pm

    Re:

    Because if it's in the public domain, then what they're doing is not infringement, so those rules don't apply.

    And giving them a taste of their own medicine only justifies the law and the outrageous fines. It won't make them want to change it. That's how they want the law even if it bites them from time to time.

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

  8. icon
    surfer (profile), Feb 9th, 2016 @ 1:16pm

    copyfraud

    copyfraud; the illegal pursuant of a licensing demand that was not owned by the 'alleged' copyright holder. theft from the public domain in direct effort to feloniously support a business model, each count of licensing demands should be met with a $150,000 statutory damages for each and every license pursued during the terms of the dispute.

    evidence the work was elevated to the public domain in 1927 @ ~ $20 million / yr profit, using real facts and not hollywood accounting numbers, I would say Warner Bros is on the hook for $1.78 billion, with a 'B' towards a pool fund where everyone who licensed the song since 1927 can demand from.

    live by copyright, be bankrupted by copyfraud. they should just double the fine, because copyfraud.

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 1:24pm

    Re: Happy Payday, Mark Rifkin, Happy Payday Mark Rifkin,Happy Payday Mark Rifkin, You sure raked it in.

    The main purpose of the various intellectual property laws is to enable corporations squash competition, and to make the lawyers rich.

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

  10. identicon
    Capt ICE Enforcer, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 1:36pm

    Bad Idea

    Bad idea having the court say that Happy Birthday is in the public domain. I can see the lawsuits being filed over the lost revenue from the song and our government can't afford it.

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

  11. icon
    TechDescartes (profile), Feb 9th, 2016 @ 2:06pm

    Not-So-Great Expectations

    Warners was expecting to have "Happy Birthday" under copyright until 2030.
    Aren't copyrights supposed to last to infinity and beyond?

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

  12. icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 9th, 2016 @ 2:59pm

    Re: Not-So-Great Expectations

    Don't worry. That date will get changed before then.

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 4:12pm

    >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.

    So, it's not public domain then?

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

  14. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 5:06pm

    Mike Masnick just hates it when copyright law is enforced.

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

  15. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 9th, 2016 @ 5:11pm

    Re: Re:

    Not to mention that statutory damages are per work infringed, not per act of infringement. $150,000 would be nothing to Warner Music.

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

  16. identicon
    That One Other Not So Random Guy, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 6:05pm

    Insanity

    "the Settlement will end more than 80 years of uncertainty regarding the disputed copyright"

    Read that out loud. Only proof anyone needs to know how insane copyright is.

    Copyright as it is now is not to encourage people to create. It's for corporations to make sure they have a cash cow forever.

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 6:58pm

    So where do I turn myself in? I have violated a sacred trust between my government and a robber baron. I am no longer fit to participate in this society. Guess I should just go down to the steps of City Hall and set myself ablaze.

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 7:08pm

    So they have made 50 millions ? Let's say this is the base of the calculation. the cost of a song 1$ the highest damage 150k ? The license fraud business should have damage equivalent to the profit made illegally. So 1k for licensing without certainty that you own the copyright = 1000 *150k = 150 millions in damage for the public. Then 150k * 50millions = 7.500 trillions. That should deter anyone else from profiting on the public's back for decades.

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 8:41pm

    Re: Insanity

    Even in sensible countries with life + 50, if you write a song at 18 and live to 88 that song will be under copyright for 120 years.
    Under Life + 50 happy Birthday went into the public domain in those countries in 1996. Given it was published in 1912 that's 84 years right there.

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

  20. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 9th, 2016 @ 8:58pm

    Re: Re: Insanity

    Even in sensible countries with life + 50,

    In what universe is life plus 50 years sensible?

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

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2016 @ 11:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Insanity

    The universe where happy birthday's been public domain since 96. And a great many other things that are still tied up for years to come in the US. And where Walt Disney has been dead for 50 years, and where stuff he worked on alone is public domain ( +stuff he worked on with others who died before him), and any film made before 1966 is public domain.

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

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 12:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Insanity

    even "steam boat willy"

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

  23. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 2:43am

    Re: Not-So-Great Expectations

    Not so, they still like to pretend that copyright isn't effectively eternal, so they argue for 'forever minus a day', as that technically isn't forever, which means it's technically limited in it's duration.

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

  24. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 5:57am

    Re: Sing it - you know the tune...

    If Happy Birthday remains
    Out of public domain
    Who else will lay claim to it
    And demand that we pay?

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

  25. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 6:01am

    Re: copyfraud

    Well well well, our dearly beloved commenter Whatever has yet to put in an appearance to opine. Where are the other maximalist apologists?

    This case has done more to cement the Pirate Party's (and associates) contention that copyright terms are far too long and should ideally be about ten years long, if that.

    If the abolitionist faction gains momentum the pro-copyright maximalists might be willing to be reasonable but until they feel the fire at their feet, I doubt it.

    That said, this is a step in the right direction. It's just a shame the plaintiffs are willing to settle. This really does need to get in front of a jury.

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

  26. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 6:03am

    Re: What is really disgusting

    The useful art of shaking people down and the science of convincing the public that a temporary monopoly privilege should be treated the same as physical property.

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

  27. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 6:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Insanity

    The corporate one.

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

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 6:11am

    Re:

    Have a DMCA vote.

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

  29. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 6:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Insanity

    The universe where happy birthday's been public domain since 96.

    That isn't sensible. '46 would have been sensible, perhaps '56. But not '96, and certainly not 2016.

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

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 8:53am

    Re:

    The Internet just hates tired old tropes. Surely you bootlicks are capable of rephrasing your nonsense in a fresh new format? Perhaps you could trademark it!

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

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 9:17am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Insanity

    The difference is actually 96 v 2030.

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

  32. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 11:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Insanity

    The difference is actually 96 v 2030.

    Not if this case goes well. But either way that's only the difference between insane and even more insane.

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

  33. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 5:04pm

    Re: Re:

    You think you're fucking hilarious don't you Mikey? TPP got signed in, and you freetards lost. I'm looking forward to the day the police hauls in your entitled pirate ass and blows you a new asshole the size of the St Helens crater.

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

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 5:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Insanity

    Wether this case goes well or not, the difference between 96 and 2030 is the same for everything else still under copyright in the US, which is nearly everything. Whereas where I am hundreds of works a year come into the public domain.
    Granted the TPP will eventually increase the term to 70 years, but it won't be taking anything out of the public domain.

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

  35. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 10:15am

    That's nothing to the MAFIAA.

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

  36. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2016 @ 6:45am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Copyright law's best and brightest.

    Have another DMCA vote.

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

  37. identicon
    Sigh, Feb 20th, 2016 @ 11:43am

    Re: Re: Not-So-Great Expectations

    What's the difference between "forever LESS a day" and "forever PLUS a day"? Two whole days!

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


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