For decades, Warner/Chappell Music claimed to own the rights to the Happy Birthday song, despite the reams of copyright scholarship and historical research showing they had no legitimate claim.
Still, businesses paid Warner millions as an alternative to costly litigation. Finally, a documentary film about Warner's ridiculous claims, sued and won.
Now Warner/Chappell has settled a claim brought by many of the companies that had paid it for a license over the years and years that they were running their fraud. The music publisher will pay $14 million in penalties and fees.
After the judge's ruling, Warner and the filmmakers reached a settlement deal that would finally put the song back into the public domain where it belongs (even though Warner still contends it does not) and provide some measure of financial redress for people who were improperly charged for its use.
In a Feb. 8 court filing [PDF], Warner has agreed to set up a fund that will pay out claims totaling up to $14 million.
Of that amount, a maximum of $6.25 million is earmarked for claimants who paid to use the birthday song after mid-June 2009. The remainder of the money will be used to cover claims going back all the way to 1949. Claimants in either group should expect to only recoup a fraction of what they paid to Warner and the various other publishers of the song over the years. As usually happens in a class action, the named plaintiffs will likely receive more. In this case, they are asking for between $10,000 and $15,000.
But if the settlement is approved, it's the lawyers who will come out with a real birthday gift on this one. The lawyers for the plaintiffs are seeking $4.6 million from Warner to cover their costs of the case.
"Happy Birthday" Song Settlement To Pay Out $14 Million To People Who Paid To Use Song
(Image: Birthday Cake, Omer Wazir, CC-BY-SA)