Melee over the Happy Birthday song
Sep 25, 2015
I rarely recommend (as pleasure reading) a Plaintiff’s ex parte application to consider newly discovered evidence and summary judgment as well the Defendant’s opposition but in the case of Good Morning to you Productions v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., I recommend it for the drama of the accusatory tone of the Plaintiff’s application and also because it might cause you to ponder on the current state of US copyright laws.
The matter of this case is a song that is familiar to all of us, the well-known Happy Birthday song. The issue is whether the song is protected by copyrighted. This copyright protection means that the owner Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. can charge large sums of money for using the song in a movie or another public use.
The copyright history of this short and sweet song is anything but that. The convoluted history of the song is explained via NPR and Forbes.com. The Plaintiff’s ex parte application (mentioned above) is based on the purportedly smoking gun evidence which indicates that the song is no longer subject to copyright restrictions.
Beyond this particular case, copyright laws are considered some of the most confusing. It is particularly difficult to gauge whether a particular use of material violates protection copyright protection.
For information about basics of copyright protection, you might consider looking at Intellectual Property Law Answer Book 2015 published by Practising Law Institute and found at KF 2972 .I5836 2015 in our main branch in Riverside.
(Author's update: Update: The song is now in the public domain. The Guardian has an in depth article about the history and outcome of the case (i.e. the happy birthday song is now public domain))