The beloved 120-year-old ditty ‘Happy birthday to you’ is in court over copyright issues after a documentary film company filed a USD 5 million lawsuit to bring the popular song into public domain.
Filmmaker Jennifer Nelson filed a lawsuit in New York yesterday seeking to block a music company from claiming it owns the copyright to the song and charging licensing fees for its use.
Nelson,was producing a documentary movie,tentatively titled “Happy Birthday,” about the song and in one proposed scene,the song was to be performed.
But to use it in the film,she was told she would have to pay USD 1,500 and enter into a licensing agreement with Warner/Chappell,the publishing arm of the Warner Music Group,the lawsuit said.
Nelson’s company,Good Morning to You Productions,paid the fee and entered into the agreement,the suit says.
“Before I began my filmmaking career. I never thought the song was owned by anyone. I thought it belonged to everyone,” Nelson said.
Her lawsuit notes that in the late 1800s,two sisters,Mildred J Hill and Patty Smith Hill,wrote a song with the same melody called “Good Morning to All.” The suit tracks that song’s evolution into the familiar birthday song,and its ownership over more than a century.
But although Warner/Chappell claims ownership of “Happy Birthday to You,” the song was “just a public adaptation” of the original song,one of Nelson’s lawyers,Mark C Rifkin,said.
The suit said that they are “committed to the vigorous prosecution of this action,” which also seeks to force Warner/Chappell to return all the licensing fees it’s
collected for use of the song,which court papers say amount to at least USD 2 million a year.
A spokesman for Warner/Chappell declined to comment on the suit.