‘Happy Birthday’ Copyright Owner Wants Public Domain Suit Dismissed

In a rather Grinch-like move, bigwigs Warner/Chappell Music are fighting to keep the most recognised song in the English language, Happy Birthday, under copyright, fighting back against a lawsuit from a film company working on a documentary about the song.

Back in June, The Hollywood Reporter claimed that the doco crew in question, Good Morning To You Productions Corp, launched the legal proceedings on behalf of everyone who pays rights to use the song, particularly film and television productions.

Although Happy Birthday is widely acknowledged to have been written by the Hill sisters in 1893, the first record of its lyrics in a songbook are dated to 1924, and as such falls under copyright laws which state anything written after 1923 is to be protected for 95 years.

Good Morning To You Productions Corp claim to have “irrefutable documentary evidence, some dating back to 1893” that will show that copyright for the most popular song in the world expired in 1921. Warner have now responded to the case in court for the first time, fighting to have the case dismissed.

Interestingly, the company are not challenging the evidence. Warner claims that the suit violates California’s unfair competition and false advertising laws, as well as trying to enact statute-of-limitations periods, on top of trying to limit the scope of the suit so the plaintiffs would have to amend their claims – basically, they appear to be trying to test Good Morning To You’s desire to fight.

Good Morning To You are currently seeking to go after the big payouts involved with a class action lawsuit. If the judge rules in Warner’s favour and upholds the motion to dismiss, the question will then be whether GMTY will be forced – or indeed willing – to file a smaller suit merely looking to prove that the song resides in the public domain right now, effectively exempting Warner from making restitution on any unfairly extracted license fees.

We’ll know for sure when the judge makes a ruling on Warner’s attempt to have the case dismissed. As the Hollywood Reporter puts it, “The papers by Warner/Chappell indicate that if the plaintiffs want to keep their big-money claims, they are going to have to do more work.”

(via The Hollywood Reporter)

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