‘Historic’ Happy Birthday court ruling to cost music publisher millions

Warner/Chappell settles legal case for £9m

Music publisher Warner/Chappell has agreed to pay $14m (£9.6m) to settle a lawsuit challenging their rights to ‘Happy Birthday To You’ in what is being described as a “historic” court case.

Warner/Chappell bought the rights to the song in 1988 for $22m (£15m), allowing them to license the song for film and TV. It is estimated that they have earned $2m a year for the past 28 years through this method.

However, in September 2015 US district judge George H King ruled that Warner/Chappell only owned some of the musical arrangements to the song and not its lyrics. A settlement filed on Monday (February 8) makes the song available to the public.

The Guardian reports that Jennifer Nelson, one of the plaintiffs in this case, was quoted a fee of $1500 to use the song in her film.

Warner/Chappell’s settlement will be used to pay the plaintiff’s legal team (£3m) with the remaining money going to compensate anyone who has paid a fee for the use of the song in the past.

The music punlisher has issued a statement explaining that they “respectfully disagree with the court’s decision”.

The settlement will be finalised by King with a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 14.