A federal judge in California may decide within the next few weeks whether to throw out the decades-old copyright for “Happy Birthday to You.” The judge could also order millions of dollars to be refunded to people who have licensed the song in recent years from its current owner Warner/Chappel Music, the music publishing arm of Warner Music Group. A California musician, a film producer and two New York music producers filed suit against the company last year after they paid fees ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand to license the song. Occasionally, Warner/Chappel receives six-figure license fees when “Happy Birthday” is used for high-profile projects such as a major motion picture. People who sing “Happy Birthday” at birthday parties at home aren’t required to get a license because that’s not a considered a public performance.
The plaintiffs argue that the song’s copyright expired no later than 1921.”More than 120 years after the melody to which the simple lyrics of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ is set was first published, defendant Warner/Chappell boldly, but wrongfully and unlawfully, insists that it owns the copyright to ‘Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You’, and with that copyright the exclusive right to authorize the song’s reproduction, distribution, and public performances pursuant to federal copyright law,” the plaintiffs argued in court papers. [Source]