Warner/Chappell faces a mass of claims for refunds after a U.S. judge rules it does not own the copyright to the 'Happy Birthday' song. Paul Chapman reports.
It's probably the world's most-famous and most-performed song...and now a U.S. judge has ruled it's also in the public domain. Warner/Chappell, the music publishing arm of Warner Music Group, said it owned the copyright and has been making about two million dollars a year in royalties in royalties. Now it's facing a mass of claims for refunds after the ruling in a lawsuit brought by several artists including film makers. Mark Rifkin's one of the lawyers who took on their case. (SOUNDBITE)(English) MARK RIFKIN, PARTNER AND ATTORNEY AT WOLF HALDENSTEIN ADLER FREEMAN AND HERTZ LLP SAYING: "The world's been waiting for a long time for somebody to resolve the ownership of the copyright. It's been an open dispute for decades and we're just thrilled to be part of the effort to end that whole long period of history." The case involved delving deep into the song's long and complex history. It all began in 1893 with the publication of a melody called "Good Morning To All" in a kindergarten songbook by Mildred Hill and her sister Patty from Kentucky. Their publisher was acquired by Warner Music Group in 1988 but the judge ruled it only had the rights to some piano arrangements, not the lyrics. Typically renditions of the song by people in their own homes or at private gatherings are unlikely to result in a claim for royalties. Warner's enforced its copyright claim when it's been used for commercial purposes, such as in films. Lawyers are calling for repayments of royalties plus interest going back at least to 1988.