October 20, 2020

Now it’s time for cake: Happy Birthday song suit settles

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iStock_000010197700_Large-Article-201509231704By Cheryl Miller, From The Recorder

SACRAMENTO — A long-standing legal fight over ownership rights to the song “” appears to have ended.

U.S. District Judge George King of the Central District of California on Tuesday announced that plaintiffs in a class action had reached a settlement with Warner/Chappell Music Inc. over the music house’s claims that it held the copyright to the birthday standard. King vacated the scheduled Dec. 15 trial date.

Terms of the agreement were not revealed.

The settlement follows a September ruling by King that Warner/Chappell does not own a valid copyright to the song’s lyrics. The judge found that Clayton F. Summy Co., a predecessor to Warner/Chappell, only held rights to a certain arrangement of the “Happy Birthday” melody and not the lyrics.

The settlement may also have been motivated by King’s order Monday granting plaintiffs’ motion to expand the class from members who paid to use the song after 2008 to anyone who paid for the song after 1948.

“Warner/Chappell was facing the prospect of potentially having to reach back 65 years and potentially having all those people and companies who paid to use that song over that time try to get that money back,” said , the chair of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger’s litigation department, who isn’t involved in the case.

Warner/Chappell issued a statement Wednesday saying only that “While we respectfully disagreed with the court’s decision, we are pleased to have now resolved this matter.”

, the interim lead class counsel in the case and a partner with Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, did not return messages left Wednesday.

Though the history of—and disagreements over—the originations of “Happy Birthday” stretch back more than 100 years, the current lawsuit was filed in 2013 when documentary producer Jennifer Nelson challenged Warner/Chappell for charging her $1,500 to use the song in a film about its history. New York attorney Randall Newman joined class action specialists from Wolf Haldenstein to represent plaintiffs who had paid “Happy Birthday” licensing fees to the publishing company.

After King declared that Warner/Chappell did not possess a valid copyright to the song, a charity known as the Association for Childhood Education International in November filed to intervene. has historical ties to “Happy Birthday” author Patty Hill, and its leaders argued that if Warner/Chappell didn’t own rights to the song, the charity should. ACEI was included in the settlement announced Tuesday.

The fact that ACEI joined the settlement is a good indication that the agreement will place the song into the public domain, Moss said.

“If you assume the settlement does not allow either [Warner/Chappell or ACEI] to extract licensing fees—since that was the point of the lawsuit—then there’s a pretty good chance that this song is going” to be in the public domain, he said.

For more on this story go to: http://www.therecorder.com/id=1202744500994/Now-Its-Time-for-Cake-Happy-Birthday-Song-Suit-Settles#ixzz3twgXnqx9

See inews Cayman related story published September 24 2015 “Judge blows out copyright on Happy Birthday song” at: https://www.ieyenews.com/wordpress/judge-blows-out-copyright-on-happy-birthday-song/

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