The Most Famous Song in the World Set Free: Impacts of the Happy Birthday to You Settlement

In this IPWatchdog® article, intellectual property attorneys and co-counsel in the Happy Birthday to You class action lawsuit, Andrew MacKay and Daniel Schacht discuss how this case may affect copyright cases going forward.

Of the lessons learned from Good Morning to You Productions Corp. et al. v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Andrew S. Mackay and Daniel J. Schacht encourage practitioners to, “Take care that your copyright registration is correct, or you will lose important evidentiary presumptions.”

“If you are a copyright owner, don’t assume that you will not bear the burden of proof, even if you don’t sue.  That means that, on a summary judgment motion, a party challenging the copyright can simply present some evidence negating the copyright owner’s claim, and then the burden will shift to the copyright owner to refute that showing.”

Further MacKay and Schacht argue, “Much of the modern advocacy for the public domain comes from (and, in the authors’ view, is tainted by) the extreme position that all information should be free. The argument is often framed as one in which modern technologists square off against an antiquated copyright law and antiquated rights holders, such as record labels and large publishers. Artists are often the forgotten stakeholder in the fights over Napster, YouTube, and other modern hotbeds of unauthorized copying.”

“The Happy Birthday case, however, put artists back in the forefront, as plaintiffs in the action, advocating for the public domain. … The class itself consisted of artistic creators, from musicians to film studios to documentary filmmakers. These are artists that wanted to use the song to create new works, to, in the words of the Copyright Clause of the Constitution, “promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts[.]”

Mackay and Schacht suggest that this win for the public domain, “could lend popular support to common sense copyright reform that supports artists and their art.”

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