It’s been two years since filmmakers making a documentary about the
song “Happy Birthday” filed a lawsuit claiming that the song shouldn’t
be under copyright. Now, they have filed (PDF) what they say is “proverbial smoking-gun evidence” that should cause the judge to rule in their favor.
The “smoking gun” is a 1927 version of the “Happy Birthday” lyrics,
predating Warner/Chappell’s 1935 copyright by eight years. That 1927
songbook, along with other versions located through the plaintiffs’
investigations, “conclusively prove that any copyright that may have
existed for the song itself… expired decades ago.”
Even if the owner wasn’t first, “Copyright law requires originality, not novelty.”
the filmmakers’ lawyers are right, it could mean a quick route to
victory in a lawsuit that’s been both slow-moving and closely watched by
copyright reform advocates. Warner/Chappell has built a licensing
empire based on “Happy Birthday,” which in 1996 was pulling in more than
$2 million per year.
This one should be interesting…