Settlement Means “Happy Birthday” Song Will Finally Enter Public Domain

The next time you decide to perform a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday To You” on TV, or in a movie or on your debut album, you won’t have to worry about paying anyone for the right to do so: after two years of legal wrangling over who owns the copyright to the classic tune, the parties involved have agreed to settle their differences.

Earlier this year, some filmmakers behind Happy Birthday, a documentary about the song’s history, sued the song’s publisher, Warner Music, to get back the $1,500 they were required to pay for its use in the film, claiming the company never had the rights to the lyrics in the first place (for more on the long, winding history of “Happy Birthday,” click here).

A federal judge then ruled in September [PDF] that Warner Music didn’t have a valid copyright claim to “Happy Birthday,” which brings in an estimated $2 million a year in royalties. But the future of the song was up for grabs, as well as Warner’s liability as a result, with a trial scheduled to start next week to determine what would happen next.

The parties in the case said in a filing this week in United States District Court in Los Angeles that they’d agreed to a settlement, which, if approved, will put the case to bed, and allow the song to formally enter the public domain. That means anyone can perform it or use it in a commercial venture — and of course, it’s still legal to sing it to your friends and family upon the occasion of their birth, as it always has been.

“While we respectfully disagreed with the court’s decision, we are pleased to have now resolved this matter,” Warner said in a statement, while an attorney for the artists said they were pleased with the settlement but declined to provide further details, Reuters reports.

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