Have you ever gone out to dinner for your birthday and been forced to suffer through an awful made up birthday tune? Believe it or not, restaurants have been forced to do this because the birthday song, which is over 100 years old, is subject to a copyright. That means that your birthday song sung by waiters would cause a royalty to be due to the copyright owner. It’s basically the original example of copyright stupidity, decades before the constant takedowns we see on Soundcloud today.
In short, filmmakers, who were forced to pay a royalty anytime the birthday song was used in a movie, challenged the copyright of Summy Co. and Warner/Chappell for the timeless tune and the judge ruled in favor of the filmmakers. The ruling means that Warner/Chappell will lose $2 million per year in royalties they normally get from the song. The actual details of the lawsuit get a bit confusing and deal with the origins of the song and how the copyright passed from the original creators to Warner/Chappell. The song was originally credited to a pair of sisters who lived in the 1800s, who later assigned the rights to a publishing company. Warner/Chappell argued that the copyright not only covered the piano melody, but the lyrics. The Court decided that there was no plausible evidence to show that the creators of the song gave those rights to Summy Co (who later transferred them to Warner/Chappell) involved in this lawsuit. As it relates to the melody and lyrics issue, another trial would have to take place to determine who is right, but for now the lyrics have been set free.
In the wake of this ruling, the Plaintiffs are arguing that Warner should return millions in royalties it collected for the song. As EDM fans who see the insanity of copyright play out everyday, it seems unlikely any of us would shed a tear for Warner.
Source: Hollywood Reporter