“Happy Birthday” not covered by copyright

Piano Happy BirthdayA federal court in the U.S. has ruled that Warner does not hold the rights to the famous birthday song. Now Warner wants to settle and pay back $14 million.

It is the most famous birthday song and probably even the most sung song in the world. 5,000 euros a day is said to have been earned by the company through licensing income from the song. However, a judge has now ruled that Warner does not hold the copyright to the song. Only a certain arrangement was covered by the license right, but not the text.

The decision

A filmmaker had sued Warner after she herself was ordered to pay $1,500 in royalties for the song when she produced a documentary about the very song. Following the judge’s decision, the parties now want to reach a settlement. 14 million Warner wants to pay, with about $10 million left to pay out after legal fees are deducted. The money is to go into a fund to repay those who had previously paid unauthorized royalties to Warner. However, the competent judge must still approve the settlement before it is valid. The hearing for this is scheduled to take place on March 14. Warner, despite entering the settlement, has let it be known that it disagrees with the court’s decision. Warner expected to hold the copyright to the song until 2030, after which it would have become public domain. In the EU, however, copyright will continue to exist until the end of this year.


If the judge approves the settlement, injured parties could file a claim and would then be compensated from the fund. However, you could also expressly object and sue Warner yourself to obtain any higher compensation. This is because the amount from the fund is limited and by no means covers the royalties paid. Those who would not take any action at all would not receive any money and would not be able to sue.
In this respect, all those who have directly or indirectly paid fees for the song lyrics after 1949 shall be deemed to be aggrieved parties. Also included are payments to foreign collecting societies such as GEMA.

If you have any questions or need assistance with a copyright infringement dispute, please feel free to contact us by phone at 0221-4201074, by email at info@rehkatsch.de, or schedule an appointment with our law firm.

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