Earlier this week, a US District Court Judge ruled in favor of a group suing Warner/Chappell over the validity of the copyright claim to the 19th century tune, "Happy Birthday to You". In his 43-page decision (which you can read in its entirety here), Judge George H. King said:

"Because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the Happy Birthday lyrics, Defendants [Warner/Chappell], as Summy Co.’s purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics."

In case you need a refresher on this case, which is fairly complex, check out this video from PBS's Idea Channel:

And here's a quick video that breaks down this week's news:

In essence, "Happy Birthday to You" will soon be in the public domain (barring some kind of reversal of the decision), which will free up filmmakers (and any other creatives/media producers) to use the song in their work without the need to pay licensing fees to Warner/Chappell.

This legal fight is far from over though. There is little doubt that Warner/Chappell will appeal, considering that the company rakes in roughly $2 million per year in licensing fees, and there is potential that an appellate court could overturn this week's decision. In the meantime, the copyrights for "Happy Birthday to You" are technically up for grabs right now, meaning that if anybody can legally prove that they are the rightful owners of the song's lyrics, we could end up right back where we started. That scenario is highly unlikely though. The most likely outcome is that the song will be released into the public domain in the coming months.

Last, but certainly not least, if it's ruled that Warner/Chappell has been illegally collecting licensing fees on a song for which they didn't own the copyright, it could open them up to a massive class action lawsuit. If that happens, the company could potentially have to pay out millions of dollars in damages to people who have paid to use the song in their works.

This story is definitely still developing, so we'll keep you updated as it progresses.

Source: Hollywood Reporter