A settlement was announced Wednesday in a copyright dispute over royalty rights to “Happy Birthday” — billed as the most recognized song in the English language.
The settlement — details of which were not immediately available — was revealed in an order from U.S. District Judge George H. King in Los Angeles, vacating a trial set to begin next week.
King ruled in September that the song was not legally owned by publisher Warner/Chappell Music, but refrained from declaring the ditty to be in the public domain.
The trial would have dealt with further questions of ownership based around an appeal from a charity apparently co-founded by Patty Hill, the schoolteacher who wrote “Happy Birthday” in the late 19th century.
A Warner/Chappell representative said that while the company “respectfully disagreed with the court’s decision, we are pleased to have now resolved this matter.”
Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson filed suit in 2013 after she was billed $1,500 to use the composition in a film she planned to make about the song’s history.
The plaintiffs argued that Warner/Chappell should return millions of dollars collected in license fees over the years.
The music publishers reportedly collected as much as $2 million annually for use of the tune.
Warner/Chappell — which acquired the company that previously claimed ownership of the song — argued that the tune was given legal copyright protection in 1935 and the publisher has the right to collect fees on the song.
After the settlement is approved, the song is expected to be declared in the public domain for use at no charge.
—City News Service