Good news! A judge has ruled that “Happy Birthday To You” isn’t copyrighted after all:
[Warner/Chappell Music] had been enforcing its copyright claim since it paid $15 million to buy Birch Tree Group, the successor to Clayton F. Summy Co., which owned the original copyright. Royalties on the song bring in about $2 million a year for Warner, according to some estimates. Judge George H. King ruled Tuesday afternoon that a copyright filed by the Summy Co. in 1935 granted only the rights to specific arrangements of the music, not the actual song itself.
Why is this such great news? Because it means that chain restaurants can now stop singing all those dreadful birthday songs they’ve invented as a way of avoiding royalty payments. These “songs” usually go something like this:
Thump thump thump
Happy happy happy
Clap clap clap
Another year, another cheer
Clap thump clap thump clap clap clap thump
Yay whistle clap clap hoorah yay
This is just dreadful. Judge King has rendered a service to mankind—unless he gets reversed on appeal, of course.
Alternatively, Warner/Chappell Music could do a service for mankind and just relinquish the copyright voluntarily. Do they really care about the measly $2 million per year? Come on, Warner. Do the right thing.