The copyright to “Happy Birthday to You” was ruled invalid by a judge yesterday (Sept. 22) in Los Angeles. If the ruling stands, the song will become part of the public domain.
Warner/Chappell controls the enduring song and collects about $2 million per year from it, according to the New York Times.
The decision was handed down by Judge George H. King of United States District Court in Los Angeles. His report states that Warner/ Chappell acquired the copyright in 1988 from Summy Co., which had previously registered it in 1935. The judge found that Summy owned the rights to the melody written in 1893, but that it never properly acquired the rights to the birthday lyrics, which were written later. Therefore, Warner/Chappell’s copyright is invalid.
The court case originated in 2013 when an independent filmmaker planned to make a documentary about the song.