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Happy birthday song ruled public property

Happy birthdya song ruled to be part of the public domain.

A Californian judge has recently ruled that "Happy Birthday to You" cannot be claimed by Warner Chappell Music. The most well-known song in the English language could perhaps be part of the public domain, rather than the intellectual property of any one organisation or individual.

The case highlights the complexity of copyright law, especially when there are questions over whether or not certain items fall within the public domain.

Tune determined public property

The lawsuit was brought against the company Warner Chappell Music who claim ownership of the rights to the happy birthday song.

Warner Chappell acknowledge the original writers of the song, Patty Smith Hill and her sister, Mildred J Hill who composed the song in 1893. 

While Judge King conceded that Warner Chappell was given the rights to the melody, he did not find sufficient evidence that they received the same rights to the lyrics. In light of this conclusion, the song is now considered to be public property.

What constitutes public domain in Australia?

According to the National Library of Australia, for any literary, dramatic and musical works that were published during the authors lifetime, the copyright lasts 70 years after the author has died. Once copyright expires, the work can be considered part of the public domain.

With the tune earning Warner Chappell an estimated $2 million a year, a contested copyright can significantly impact your revenue.

A contested copyright can affect profits

The case highlights the importance of sufficiently protecting your intellectual property, both in Australia and internationally.

A failure to properly foster design protection can result in your profits being minimalised. Discussing options with copyright lawyers in Australia can help you understand the best way to protect your innovation.

For advice on the best way to navigate Australian copyright law, get in touch with one of the professionals at Alder IP.