Ever wonder why you never hear the real Happy Birthday song on TV or in movies? That’s because Warner Music currently owns the copyright, and the conglomerate has previously charged for anyone who wants to publicly sing or play the ubiquitous song. However, a new court case might change all that.
Filmmaker Jennifer Nelson of Good Morning to You Productions is in the midst of a legal battle with Warner that questions whether the latter actually owns the rights to the song. While making a documentary about the controversy, Nelson uncovered evidence she claims proves that Warner doesn’t own the rights. If Nelson wins her case, you may be hearing “Happy Birthday” in your favorite shows and movies, rather than some sort of weird stand-in.
“I felt that there was a legitimate reason to take action and not just let this be an industry joke,” Nelson said, according to The Washington Post. “So here I am. My ‘Happy Birthday’ movie about the song has evolved into a movie about saving the song … I’m a bit of a reluctant activist. I just saw something that was inherently wrong and we all joked about it and laughed about it… But then I realized we could do something about it and I did.”
While the case — which begun way back in 2013 — certainly isn’t over, it sounds like a decision may be made soon. Nelson’s evidence, a 1927 version of the tune that has no copyright, may be enough to overturn Warner’s copyright. “The newly discovered evidence … proves conclusively that Happy Birthday has been in the public domain since no later than 1922,” wrote Nelson in a court filing. The judge in the case, George H. King, heard Warner’s rebuttal to the plaintiff’s statement yesterday and is now giving the them seven days to respond.
We’ll have to wait and see how it all shakes out, but “Happy Birthday to You” may not be in Warner’s grasp for much longer.