Judge Rules “Happy Birthday To You” Now In Public Domain
Rupa Marya, leader of Rupa & The April Fishes, represented by attorneys Daniel Schacht and Andrew MacKay of Donahue Fitzgerald, heralds big victory for the Public
Oakland, CA (September 23, 2015) – Two years after the lawsuit began, Judge George King of the Central District of California today ruled the copyright for “Happy Birthday to You” is not held by Warner/Chappell Music. The song known worldwide and sung at birthday parties for over 100 years is now in the public domain. The next step in the case is to determine how much of the millions of dollars in licensing revenue collected over the years by Warner/Chappell Music the company must refund to the thousands of people who have licensed the song. Warner/Chappell Music is the music publishing arm of Warner Music Group.
Rupa, leader of the band Rupa & the April Fishes, recorded the song at a live concert in San Francisco in 2013 on the eve of her birthday. At midnight, the band and audience serenaded her with “Happy Birthday to You.” She was surprised when her attorney, Daniel Schacht of Donahue Fitzgerald, told her that Warner/Chappell claimed to own the rights to “Happy Birthday to You.” She paid Warner/Chappell Music $455 to include the song on her album Live at the Independent.
Rupa is one of four class plaintiffs: Rupa, Good Morning to You Productions Corp., Robert Siegel, and Majar Productions, LLC. “I hope we can start reimagining copyright law to do what it’s supposed to do — protect the creations of people who make stuff so that we can continue to make more stuff,” says Rupa. “This ruling is a step towards changing the current perversion of copyright, which protects corporations’ ability to exploit content and copyright law for their own interest.”
The lawsuit was filed as a class action, seeking to represent everyone who wrongly paid money to Warner/Chappell Music for licenses for the song. “Today’s ruling is a huge victory for the public and the public domain,” added Schacht. “Everyone who has a birthday can celebrate.”
The main defendant is Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., a music publishing company and division of the Warner Music Group. Warner/Chappell Music acquired the Summy Company in 1988 for a reported $25 million, including its claimed ownership of “Happy Birthday to You.” Warner-Chappell claimed that the copyright to the lyrics for the song would not expire until 2030.
Two sisters, Patty and Mildred Hill, wrote “Happy Birthday to You” in 1893. Patty was a kindergarten teacher and the song began as a good morning tune for children and their teacher to sing to each other. The birthday lyrics were added later as an optional verse.
Daniel Schacht and Andrew MacKay of Donahue Fitzgerald bring their experience in copyright and music law to the case. This is one of many high-profile intellectual property lawsuits that Donahue Fitzgerald has brought on behalf of content creators. Lead counsel for the plaintiffs is the law firm of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP, with Mark Rifkin and Betsy Manifold handling the case. Wolf Haldenstein brings their experience as one of the most prominent class action firms in the world to this case. Randall Newman is a solo practitioner who handles entertainment, social media, and class action litigation. Randy has done extensive factual research in the case, including into the chain of title of the copyright registrations. Also involved in the case on behalf of the plaintiffs are Marc Godino and Kara Wolke of Glancy Prongay & Murray LLP.
About Donahue Fitzgerald LLP
Donahue Fitzgerald LLP is a full-service law firm with more than fifty attorneys in three Bay Area offices located in Oakland, Walnut Creek, and Marin. Donahue Fitzgerald provides legal advice and representation in all aspects of business and corporate law, employment, intellectual property, real estate and construction, franchise, and tax, as well as trusts and estates and litigation. The firm was founded in 2014 with the merger of two of California’s oldest and venerable law firms, Donahue Gallagher Woods LLP and Fitzgerald Abbott & Beardsley LLP.
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