A documentary film company making a movie about the “Happy Birthday” song has filed a lawsuit against the music monopolist Warner/Chappell, asking it to return the hundreds of millions of dollars it has collected over the years in improper royalties for the public domain song “Happy Birthday”.
Claiming a monopoly they don’t even have, and then extorting people for it? I just have no problem with suing over that. This issue has been raised for years, but the amount Warner/Chappell asks from any given target is always less than it would cost to fight it in court, so people just paid up. Until now. (Warner/Chappell is hardly alone in this business model, by the way.)
The full lawsuit, embedded below, goes through a detailed history of the song and any possible copyright claims around it. It covers the basic history of “Good Morning to You,” but also notes that the “happy birthday” lyrics appeared by 1901 at the latest, citing a January 1901 edition of Inland Educator and Indiana School Journal which describes children singing a song called “happy birthday to you.” They also point to a 1907 book that uses a similar structure for a song called “good-bye to you” which also notes that you can sing “happy birthday to you” using the same music. In 1911, the full “lyrics” to Happy Birthday to You were published, with a notation that it’s “sung to the same tune as ‘Good Morning.'” There’s much more in the history basically showing that the eventual copyright that Warner/Chappell holds is almost entirely unrelated to the song Happy Birthday to You.
The Techdirt post shows the full text of the suit.