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Judge Rules That ‘Happy Birthday to You’ Is Public Domain

A new court case invalidated the tune's 80-year copyright claim

The days of your characters on your favorite TV shows singing budget, knockoff versions of “Happy Birthday to You” are over, as a federal judge has ruled that the iconic song belongs in the public domain. Up until now, anybody who wanted to use the ubiquitous song had to pay Warner/Chappell Music, which has made $2 million a year in royalties ever since buying the now-invalid copyright in 1988. According to the Los Angeles Times, L.A. Judge George H. King ruled that the original copyright filed by the Summy Co. in 1935 granted only the rights to that specific arrangement, not the song itself.

“‘Happy Birthday’ is finally free after 80 years,” attorney Randall Newman said. “Finally, the charade is over. It’s unbelievable.”

The paper reports that Warner/Chappell is “looking at the court’s lengthy opinion and considering our options.”