Is the Happy Birthday Song UnIntellectual Property?

On June 19, 2013, in Copyrights, by Brian A. Hall

This is not a post wishing my blog a happy birthday.  It is not a post about my birthday, or anyone else’s for that matter.  Instead, it is meant to highlight the fact that  lawsuit has been filed to declare that the “Happy Birthday” song is not subject to copyright protection.  Put another way, the issue is whether the “Happy Birthday” song is actually UnIntellectual Property.

Long story short, a filmmaker, Jennifer Nelson, doing a film about the song had to pay a license fee to Warner Music Group of $1,500 to use the song in her documentary.  Nelson has filed the lawsuit in New York, hoping that ultimately a court of law will declare the song is public domain, meaning anyone can use it without having to pay licensing fees to an exclusive owner.  You can read more about it here.

I wonder whether the defense of fair use would have applied in the event Nelson chose to use the song without securing the license.  I also wonder whether this will be settled.  We will have to wait and see.  In the meantime, comment and let me know if you think the “Happy Birthday” song should be deemed UnIntellectual Property.


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