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

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 23: Funi the Panda enjoys eating her birthday cake to celebrate her first Australian birthday at Adelaide Zoo on August 23, 2010 in Adelaide, Australia. Funi, meaning 'Lucky Girl', turns four years old today. Funi, who shares an enclosure with Wang Wang, are the only Giant Pandas in the Southern Hemisphere and the first to live permanently in Australia. (Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Funi the Panda

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.”