A production company making a documentary about the song “Happy Birthday to You” is challenging the copyright to the famous jingle.
Good Morning To You Productions Corp., which is working on a film tentatively titled “Happy Birthday”, argues in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that the song should be “dedicated to public use and in the public domain”. The company is seeking monetary damages and restitution of more than $5 million in licensing fees collected by Warner/Chappell Music Inc. from thousands of people and groups who’ve paid it licensing fees.
“More than 120 years after the melody to which the simple lyrics of Happy Birthday to You is set was first published, defendant Warner/Chappell boldly, but wrongfully and unlawfully, insists that it owns the copyright to Happy Birthday to You,” the lawsuit states.
Warner/Chappell, based in Los Angeles, claims exclusive copyright to “Happy Birthday to You”, which Guinness World Records has called the most famous song in the English language. Good Morning To You Productions argues that evidence dating to 1893 helps show the song’s copyright expired around 1921. The lawsuit says Warner/Chappell claims the copyright to the song based on piano arrangements published in 1935 but that the copyright applies only to the piano arrangement and not to the melody or lyrics.