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Happy Birthday copyright suit settles for $14 million

iStock_000010197700_Large-Article-201509231704By Ross Todd, From The Recorder

SAN FRANCISCO — Music publisher Warner/Chappell Music Inc. has agreed to pay $14 million to settle a class action challenging ownership rights to the song “Happy Birthday to You.”
Warner/Chappell has also agreed to the entry of a judgment that would declare that the most popular song in the English language is in the public domain, according to court papers filed Monday.
That provision of the deal, if approved by U.S. District Judge George King of the Central District of California, could bring an end to more than 80 years of legal wrangling over rights to the song, which brought in an estimated $2 million per year in licensing revenue for Warner/Chappell.
King shocked the copyright world in September when he ruled that Warner/Chappell didn’t own a valid copyright to the song in a 41-page order. King’s ruling found that the company held only a copyright to a certain piano arrangement of the melody, and not the lyrics. The decision was a victory for documentary filmmaker and lead plaintiff Jennifer Nelson and her lawyers—New York solo practitioner Randall Newman and a team of class action specialists from Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz led by Mark Rifkin. The ruling, however, stopped short of declaring that the song was in the public domain and free for anyone to use.
In the court papers filed Monday, Nelson’s lawyers wrote that judicial determination that the song is in the public domain is arguably “the most important part” of the deal because the copyright had been set to cover the song through 2030. A plaintiffs’ intellectual property expert estimated that the song could generate between $14 million and $16.5 million in royalties over that span if not for the suit.
Plaintiffs lawyers will be seeking fees of $4.62 million, or one-third of the settlement amount. Although that’s higher than the Ninth Circuit’s 25 percent benchmark for class action deals, the lawyers claim they put in more than $5 million worth of work on the case.
Warner/Chappell is represented by Munger, Tolles & Olson.
A preliminary approval hearing on the proposed deal is set for next month.

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See iNews Cayman related story with other related links published December 10 2015 “Now it’s time for cake: Happy Birthday song suit settles” at:


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