Good Morning to You, a New York based Production Company, has filed a lawsuit against the Warner Music Group over the rights of the song 'Happy Birthday'.
Good Morning to You is filming a documentary about the origins of the song - the documentary (originally enough) shares the same name. The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan on the grounds the copyright is invalid thus should be declared void and refunds issued to all those who paid royalties. Considering Warner Brothers collects around $2 million of royalties from the use of the song every year this will not be a small sum. Those who neglect to pay the $1500 licencing fee face a fine of $150,000 for breaching Warner Brother's copyright.
The song originates from Kentucky where it was created by the Hill Sisters and published in 1893. It was only in 1935 that the lyrics and score were copyrighted. They have belonged and will continue (until 2030) to belong to Warner Brothers. This is the issue underpinning the whole case. This version of the song is copyrighted by Warner yet others may have pre-existed this score allowing Good Morning to You (and others) to use a previously un-copyrighted version.
Owing to the obscure origins of the song, Good Morning to You have been forced to delve into copyrighting archives around the US including those of an Indiana school which attempted to have the song copyrighted in 1912.
The production company believe the song should be 'dedicated to public use and in the public domain'. Warner's policing of this copyright can only be obtained in the case of large scale and varied use. Therefore, although the general public may have spent years breaching copyright laws, the song is still safe to be sung. Quietly.