Every single day, “Happy Birthday to You” is sang to many people around the world. The song is technically owned by Warner Music subsidiary Warner/Chappell. Warner Music owns the copyright to the song and they charge $1,500 every time it is used in a movie or TV show scene. Jennifer Nelson is producing a documentary on the song and she paid the licensing fee for it.
According to The New York Times, Nelson filed a lawsuit against Warner Music in a New York court with hopes that the company’s copyright claim will be invalidated. Her goal is to get the song placed into public domain.
Nelson said that the song is an adaption of the 19th century song “Good Morning To All.” The lawsuit claims that there is irrefutable documentary evidence that dates back to 1893 that shows that the copyright to any part of the song expired in 1921.
TechDirt embedded the lawsuit documents on their website. The document cites that the “happy birthday” lyrics appeared in around 1901 as cited by an edition of Inland Educator and Indiana School Journal from that year. The journal said that children were singing a song called “Happy Birthday To You.” The full “lyrics” to the song “Happy Birthday To You” was published in 1911.
The lawsuit also says that if Warner Music owns any rights to “Happy Birthday To You,” they should be limited to the extremely narrow right to reproduce and distribute specific piano arrangements for the song that was published in 1935. The lawsuit is also asking that Warner Music pays back the millions of dollars generated through the licensing fees.