Happy Birthday to You: the final verse?Print publication
The US District Court for the Central District of California ruled in September that Warner/Chappell did not own copyright in the song. The judge ruled that the two sisters who composed the song in the nineteenth century and who later purported to transfer copyright in it – with Warner/Chappell claiming title as successor to that transferee – did not in fact transfer the rights in the song’s lyrics, only the rights to the melody and the rights to the piano arrangement.
The ruling will be a blow to Warner/Chappell, who reportedly have been making around $2 million a year in royalties, from whenever the song is performed in public, including on television or radio. Warner Chappell have said they are considering their options. In the meantime, we may start to see “Happy Birthday to You” sung on UK TV soap operas, rather than an unconvincing substitute. Or, as the successful attorney in the lawsuit put it: “Happy Birthday is finally free after 80 years”.