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Class Action Lawsuit Challenges Copyright To 'Happy Birthday' Song

Kevin Blair Kevin Blair
June 14th, 2013 7:01pm EDT

Birthday Cake

A class action lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal Court this week challenges the copyright to traditional song "Happy Birthday to You."

Producers of a new documentary about the song claim the that it originated in the 1890s and should be in the public domain, free of any copyright protection.

Good Morning To You Productions Corp. paid Warner/Chappell Music -- who obtained the rights to the song in 1990 -- a sum of $1500 in March to use it in their forthcoming film; but now they're looking to get that fee back after extensive research for the film may prove that Warner/Chappell's copyright claim is void.

Warner/Chappell maintains that the song was copyrighted in a 1935 filing by Preston Ware Orem and a Mrs. R.R. Forman, who claim to have created the song.

The jingle is reportedly based on the song "Good Morning to All," which was written by sisters Patty and Mildred J. Hill in 1893.

Warner/Chappell claims the copyright they hold is good until 2030 based on the current law that protects copyrighted material for 95 years; but if a court rules that the song was indeed written in the late 1800s, Warner/Chappell would lose the rights and the song would become public domain.

It would also entitle producers of the film to recoup the licensing fee they paid to use it.

Warner/Chappell has charged a fee for every use of the song in the movies, on TV or on stage since obtaining the copyright.

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