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“Happy Birthday” Song Public Domain, Warner Music Must Pay $14 Million
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Photo courtesy of Michelle Bulgaria.

Summary: Warner Music must pay $14 million in a class action lawsuit that challenged its right to own the song, “Happy Birthday.”

It’s a present that came early this year.


According to The Hollywood Reporter, music publisher Warner/Chappell will pay $14 million to end a lawsuit challenging its ownership of the beloved song, “Happy Birthday To You.” Warners expected to have the rights to the song until 2030.

The settlement filed on Monday also declared that the song will be in the public domain.

In September, U.S. District Judge George H. King determined that Warner and its predecessor did not hold a valid copyright claim to the song, nor did they ever acquire the rights to the lyrics. He stopped short of ruling the song was public domain until recently.

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“Happy Birthday To You” was written in the 19th century by a schoolteacher named Patty Smith and her sister Mildred Hill.

The class action lawsuit against Warners was filed by director Jennifer Nelson, who was making a documentary about the song but was asked to pay a license fee of $1,500. She sued because she did not want Warners to charge her or anyone else for the right to the song ever again.

An intellectual property expert hired by the plaintiffs estimated “Happy Birthday” could net Warners $14 million to $16.5 million in the next 15 years.


Mark Rifkin. Photo courtesy of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Mark Rifkin. Sources say he will receive one third of the settlement, making his fee $4.62 million. The rest of the money will go to those who paid Warners to license the song.

Rifkin is a partner at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz. According to the company website, he is an “experienced securities class action and shareholder rights litigator.”

By agreeing to settle, Warners will not have to go to trial to determine whether or not they should be punished for charging people to use the song for decades. They also have agreed not to appeal.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter


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