There are some songs that are so omnipresent in our culture that pretty much everyone knows them. One of those songs is the "Happy Birthday" song. Recently, a big federal copyright decision came down in a case involving this song. If the decision holds, it will have major impacts on the legal status of commercial use of this song.
Warner/Chappell Music claims to hold copyright rights to the song. In connection to these claims, the company has been collecting royalty fees in connection to commercial use of the song. A group of artists brought a federal class action lawsuit challenging the company's copyright rights to the song and asking for the return of royalty fees collected by the company. We discussed this lawsuit in a previous post.
The federal judge in this case recently ruled that the copyright that had transferred to Warner/Chappell Music in relation to the song did not cover the lyrics to the song, and thus that Warner/Chappell Music's claims of having a copyright on the song as a whole are invalid.
As a result of this decision, the song goes into the public domain. Thus, if this decision stays in place and is not struck down, it entirely changes what the legal situation is for individuals and companies that want to use this song commercially.
Copyright cases can arise in all different parts of the entertainment industry, including the music industry, the TV industry, the writing industry, the art industry and the movie industry. As this decision illustrates, what happens in copyright cases can have major impacts on a copyright holder and many other individuals and parties. Thus, when a person in the entertainment industry is involved in a copyright dispute or matter, it can be very important for them to have good legal guidance.
Copyright law gets very complex and copyright cases can end up coming down to very detailed technical issues. Experienced entertainment law attorneys understand the complicated copyright issues than can come up in connection to various mediums in the entertainment industry can help guide individuals in entertainment-industry-related copyright cases through the complex matters and steps in their case.
Source: Reuters, "U.S. judge rules copyright for 'Happy Birthday' invalid," Andrew Chung, Sept. 22, 2015