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Music Businesses The Almighty Buck The Courts Your Rights Online

"Happy Birthday To You" Set To Finally Reach the Public Domain 120

schnell writes: The New York Times reports that "the world's most popular song" is at last poised to be released into the public domain. From the story: "In September, a federal judge ruled that Warner Music, the song's publisher, did not have a valid copyright claim to 'Happy Birthday,' which has been estimated to collect $2 million a year in royalties. But what that ruling meant for the future of the song — and Warner's liability — was unclear, and a trial had been set to begin next week. In a filing on Tuesday in United States District Court in Los Angeles, the parties in the case said they had agreed to a settlement to end the case. The terms of that deal are confidential. But if the settlement is approved by the court, the song is expected to formally enter the public domain." (We mentioned the case in September, too.)
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"Happy Birthday To You" Set To Finally Reach the Public Domain

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2015 @05:59PM (#51097231)

    They made hundreds of millions of dollars off of a single fraudulent copyright claim and will experience no repercussions. These are the people RIAA is fighting for.

    • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @06:17PM (#51097325)

      They made hundreds of millions of dollars off of a single fraudulent copyright claim and will experience no repercussions. These are the people RIAA is fighting for.

      These people fund the RIAA (along with the other major labels), so naturally the RIAA fights for them.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 ) <uninvolved@outlook.com> on Thursday December 10, 2015 @07:31PM (#51097707) Journal

      I actually find it hard to believe that this is true. I'm half-tempted to make a bet that, within a year, this will be back in court.

      Hmm... Anyone want to take the bet? I'll sing and upload the song if it's not back in court within a year from today if anyone wants to take the opposite bet where they sing and upload the song (and accept the consequences).

  • Happy birth... sorry I'll cease and desist my rendition of your song in text form... Pleasant Day of Birth to you, Pleasant Day of Birth to you..
  • Chemo (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2015 @06:01PM (#51097237)

    That Happy Birthday of all things could have stayed so long locked under copyright is the prime example of why Copyright is such a horrible cancer for society.

    This is not about anything but making more profit for big labels.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @06:04PM (#51097251) Homepage
    For years we've waited with bated breath for such a revelation. Now that happy birthday is truly free, armies of Applebees servers, waitresses, and line cooks can rejoice as through their dead posture and vacant saccharine manufactured glee theyre paraded out in front of yet one more table of midwestern suburbanites to sing the true call of happy birthday to a fourty-something housewife checking her phone.
  • What I like best is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @06:05PM (#51097259)
    that the copyright on a song whose melody was composed in 1893 and lyrics in the 30s is _still_ being contested. IIRC nothing has lapsed into the public domain since 2010, and that's not likely to change. Anyone remember when the Mouse is up for another extension?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Probably never

      Then again, thanks to the internet, maybe locked out content will be treated as damage and routed around. I mean as much as love movies I feel like that industry is fading. It'll still kick around, like theatre, but it won't be the same.

      In a perfect world big stupid companies like Disney fight and spend stupid amounts of money to keep the rights to all this garbage just in time for nobody to give a shit anymore

    • the copyright on a song [from] the 30s is _still_ being contested.

      U.S. copyright in works of authorship first published in 1923 through 1977 or later subsists for 95 years after the end of the year in which the work was first published. If a song's lyrics were first published in the 1930s, it would have fallen under this rule. A pre-1923 publication, on the other hand, would have put the lyrics in the public domain.

      Anyone remember when the Mouse is up

      The keystone of copyright in Mickey Mouse is three short films published in 1928: Plane Crazy, The Gallopin' Gaucho, and Steamboat Willie. Likewise, the keystone of copyright in Winnie the Pooh is the books Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, the latter having been first published in 1928. Under current law, copyright in these works expires at the end of 2023, meaning those characters become fair game starting in 2024. (And before you say "trademark", read through Dastar v. Fox.)

      for another extension?

      The Supreme Court has allowed re-extension of a copyright term that had already been extended, but only when the extension has had the intent of harmonizing the term to that of another major developed market. For example, the Court in Eldred v. Ashcroft allowed the 1998 extension to let the U.S. harmonize with the European Union but was careful to distinguish it from what copyright reform advocates have since called "perpetual copyright on the installment plan." With which major developed market would a subsequent term extension prior to the end of 2023 harmonize?

      • by sconeu ( 64226 )

        Does TPP extend copyright terms?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Outside of the US it "harmonizes" copyright to meet the new US duration. So for lots of the world it does extend copyright.

          All it takes is for one country to extend it some more, and then everyone else can ratchet theirs up in the name of consistency.

          3. Profit!

          • by gwolf ( 26339 )

            In fact... The US is getting its copyright terms extended by the TPP. Mexico has life-plus-100-years since 1995, and as a signer country of TPP, that will make our (stupid) terms become the norm for all of the other partners. Yay for harmonization :-P

            • by tepples ( 727027 )

              The US is getting its copyright terms extended by the TPP. Mexico has life-plus-100-years since 1995

              Where does the released TPP text say that the copyright term shall be extended past life plus 70? I thought it just said life plus 70 is a minimum. The EU's extension from life plus 50 to life plus 70 was ultimately to reconcile the original rationale for the Berne copyright term, which was the life of heirs who knew the author personally, with life spans that had been extended by better health care. Besides, the EU is far more economically powerful than Mexico. Thus any attempt at "harmonization" to Mexico

              • by gwolf ( 26339 )

                Would be great to harmonize for less rather than for more. But it has never been seen, and probably never will.

                • I've read that harmonizing for less would be perceived as a 'taking' under the Fifth Amendment and would thus require the logistical nightmare of providing "just compensation" for all copyright owners for the portion of the copyright term "taken for public use".

                  • That's one theory. It may or may not be valid. However, if we reduce to 75 years for corporate copyright and 50 after death for personal, we'll find that almost all the stuff going into public domain has little value. There aren't all that many people paying for early Mickey Mouse cartoons.

                    • by tepples ( 727027 )

                      There aren't all that many people paying for early Mickey Mouse cartoons.

                      The point is that once the copyright expires, people can lawfully make new Mickey and Pooh cartoons.

      • With which major developed market would a subsequent term extension prior to the end of 2023 harmonize?

        I believe they started with Mexico, life + 100. By the time 2023 rolls around they'll have gotten a few other countries to "harmonize" with Mexico

      • "Under current law, copyright in these works expires at the end of 2023"

        The key word here being 'current', of course. No doubt before 2023 the law will have been changed.

      • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

        Out side the USA Winnie the Pooh is locked up for life plus some duration. That is 70 years in most places so 2027.

        Also while the USA has a ruling on the use of trademarks to lock up copyright for longer that does not apply to the rest of the world.

        Why is this relevant, because Happy Birthday has been out of copyright out side the USA for some considerable period of time. However if you wanted to make a movie that had someone singing it you need a license if you wanted to show it in the USA. In effect it wa

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          In which countries did case law on the interaction between trademarks and copyrights go the opposite way?

      • but only when the extension has had the intent of harmonizing the term to that of another major developed market

        Which of course the US state department has been dutifully trying to do at the request of the copyright lobby so it can be extended domestically.

        You can bet your ass that people are working diligently to ensure that the needs of the copyright lobby are served, because US foreign policy has been so thoroughly polluted with serving corporate interests there's no other option.

        Uncle Sam is on the tak

    • that the copyright on a song whose melody was composed in 1893 and lyrics in the 30s is _still_ being contested. IIRC nothing has lapsed into the public domain since 2010, and that's not likely to change. Anyone remember when the Mouse is up for another extension?

      If Mickey Mouse were to sing Happy Birthday, the clash of copyright forces would annihilate the known universe.

      Wait, never mind. It happened already, with no catastrophic effects. [youtube.com]

    • Under EU law, unpublished works lose their copyright protection and become public domain after 50 years. 50 years ago... that was 1965. Lots of music still relevant today was being made (Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc). Some of those songs had a dozen or more alternate takes. Some record companies are now releasing them to prevent them from going into the public domain. Many record companies don't have their shit together and have allowed them to lapse.

      Many (pre-1964, soon pre-1965) Beatles recordings

      • Beatles' songs are covered by copyright — Yes, the (mostly) Lennon/McCartney lyrics and music. But the audio recordings are covered by a completely different beast, the "related performance rights", which have their own rulebook.

    • that the copyright on a song whose melody was composed in 1893 and lyrics in the 30s is _still_ being contested. IIRC nothing has lapsed into the public domain since 2010, and that's not likely to change. Anyone remember when the Mouse is up for another extension?

      Times being what they are, Mein Kampf is becoming public domain and will be published again:
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new... [telegraph.co.uk]

  • by dohzer ( 867770 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @06:07PM (#51097283) Homepage

    Isn't the most popular song that "Watch me whip, now watch me neigh neigh!" song?!

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      I have gotta stop Googlin' shit I find on Slashdot. You'd think I'd know better by now. How the hell do you even know that? I don't know which one of us should be more ashamed of ourselves. :/

    • Sadly, Silento does not live up to (their?) name :-(
    • Not according to YouTube, "Silentà - Watch Me" is not even in the top 20.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      1. "Gangnam Style" 2,465,911,892
      2. "Blank Space" 1,326,124,076
      3. "Baby" 1,249,211,311
      4. "See You Again" 1,216,871,611
      5. "Dark Horse" 1,196,348,746
      6. "Uptown Funk"1,194,402,414
      7. "Shake It Off" 1,192,095,624
      8. "Bailando" 1,179,675,147
      9. "Roar" 1,165,459,427
      10. "All About That Bass" 1,141,592,739
      11. "Counting Stars" 1,057,017,413
      12. "Wheels On The Bus" 1,042,

  • by Anonymous Coward
    No, it will NOT enter the public domain. It will become an orphan work.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The song has been in public domain for many decades now. Warner Bros has just falsely taken money from people. Perhaps they should be sued?

    Warner Bros is wrong as they are on so many of their other expired copyrights and the courts are just stupid. But when the rich pay for the laws to be written by political brides, this is what we get.

  • by jdavidb ( 449077 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @06:21PM (#51097345) Homepage Journal
    In the meantime, I'll just keep practicing civil disobedience.
    • I dunno about 'secessionism' being a basic right of all sentient beings, but 'civil disobedience' sure as hell is, or should be; life (the continuance of, and quality of, that is) more important than government, or even laws; those two things are supposed to facilitate life, not the other way around. When they get transposed, then Bad Things are happening; the system is broken and must be 'fixed' -- thus 'civil disobedience'. As someone else once said, 'Soap box, ballot box, and ammo box -- use them in that
      • by jdavidb ( 449077 )

        Secession doesn't have to be the first thing you go to. My point is that it should be explicitly allowed. If it were explicitly allowed a lot of things would be different and you'd be much less likely to ever get to the point of needing it, and we'd have a lot less people contemplating it.

        From a certain point of view a person practicing civil disobedience may be said to have seceded, perhaps partially. In the late 1700s and early 1800s many or most of the statesmen in the U.S. believed in the right of st

      • by moeinvt ( 851793 )

        Getting way off topic here, but...
        You forgot about "jury box" in your list, which is typically considered option #3, the theory being that juries can nullify unjust laws by refusing to convict people who break them. Of course government courts have long since prohibited defendants from making a case based on that argument however.
        By your definition, I guess most of the countries in the world throughout human history have/had poorly designed systems of government. Governments which respect freedom of speec

      • Civil disobedience is the process of breaking unjust laws and accepting the punishments. It can be practiced in any circumstances where there is a government, although it may not be worth it. Simply disobeying the law, while trying to avoid punishment, can also be practiced wherever there are laws, and this can help push for changes in the law. It's options you always have, and if you consider that a "basic right" then that's fine with me.

        By its nature, civil disobedience is illegal. Consider the mar

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Happy birthday to you,
    Happy birthday to you,
    Unless you're Warner Music,
    In which case sod off.

  • The only thing that happened here is that Warner Music has been forced to release their unlawful claim to the music. It already is in public domain.
  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @08:03PM (#51097865) Journal

    In a twist to the case, the Association for Childhood Education International, a nonprofit group that was co-founded by Patty Hill [the sister of the composer of the song] and has collected a large portion of the song’s royalties, filed a motion last month arguing that if Warner did not control the copyright to “Happy Birthday,” then it did.

  • I wondered after 20 year imprisonment for copyright infringement in the UK if people with birthday parties on facebook would get prison time.
  • I need citation. I think it might be natives anglophone's most popular song, but not world's. I been around the world and most cultures have their own song song for birthdays totally different than the english happy birthday. The one song I have found in common amongst Christians has been holy night, which is a german song, I think
    • by gwolf ( 26339 )

      In many Latin American countries, the same melody is sung "Feliz cumpleaños a tí / feliz cumpleaños a tí / feliz cumpleaños querido _____ / feliz cumpleaños a tí".
      In Israel (yes, I know, not too many people speak Hebrew; the country's population is ~0.1% of the world population) it's the same case.
      I would expect the same to hold in many other cultures.

  • This will not happen, I can assure that Happy Birthday will not be entering the public domain any time soon. When there is money to be made the corporate scumbags will do anything to keep this copyrighted perpetually.

  • Yet another secret out-of-court settlement. And somewhere (not the Times article) I read that both parties agreed to vacate the previous ruling. So NOTHING is official.

    And a reminder, the court ruled that Warner Music did not have valid copyright. That's not the same as ruling that "Happy et al" is public domain. American courts never do something so useful. Instead they leave the situation open to future litigation.
    • Warner Brothers does not have a valid copyright. Someone else could come forward with a valid copyright; there's not enough information to rule that out.

He's dead, Jim.

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