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Federal judge invalidates ‘Happy Birthday’ copyright
Federal judge invalidates ‘Happy Birthday’ copyright

A judge for the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] on Tuesday invalidated [opinion] the copyright claim to the lyrics of the song “Happy Birthday.” The court considered the question of whether Warner/Chapelle Music, inc. [corporate website], as the successors of Summy Co., had a valid copyright claim to the lyrics of “Happy Birthday.” Chief Judge George King ruled that Warner/Chapelle did not have a claim to the lyrics because the court could not ascertain if the original writers, Patty Hill and Mildred Hill, ever gave Summy Co. the rights. King wrote:

Defendents ask us to find that the Hill sisters eventually gave Summy Co. the rights in the lyrics to exploit and protect, but this assertion has no support in the record. The Hill sisters gave Summy Co. the rights to the melody, and the rights to piano arrangements based on the melody, but never any rights to the lyrics.”

Warner/Chappele has not yet indicated whether it plans to appeal the ruling.

Copyright issues have become especially prevalent in the digital age. Earlier this month a federal appeals court Universal Music Group [corporate website] in a lawsuit concerning fair use after Universal demanded YouTube take down a video that used Prince’s song “Let’s go crazy.” In July a Belgian court found [JURIST report] that the founders of the file-sharing website Pirate Bay were not guilty of copyright infringement.