Well, here’s a great birthday present for someone. In a summary judgment, a judge declared that “Happy Birthday” may be in the public domain. This does not necessarily mean, as some are reporting, that all the “Happy Birthday” copyrights are invalid, but it does mean that if anyone does own them, it isn’t Warner Music.
The judge rules that plaintiffs can’t score just yet on a claim of copyright abandonment — it’s a triable issue — but there’s still enough in the record to give them victory on another aspect. Even if the Hill sisters [who originally wrote the song] still held common law rights to the lyrics when they made their later deals with Summy, the judge says there’s no plausible evidence to support the theory they gave those rights to Summy Co.
The plaintiffs want to turn the lawsuit into a class action to recoup some of the millions of dollars Warner has charged in license fees since at least 1988, and possibly all the way back to 1935. A spokesman for Warner simply said, “We are looking at the court’s lengthy opinion and considering our options.” Warner may still choose to appeal, but it will have to ask the judge for permission to proceed, and has not yet done so.