No 'Happy Birthday' for Warner: US judge rules that singing tune publicly should be free

Sheet music for the song Good Morning To All is seen in an undated photo provided by the University of Louisville, Kentucky.
Sheet music for the song Good Morning To All is seen in an undated photo provided by the University of Louisville, Kentucky. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Phew!!! You can still sing Happy Birthday and not risk a lawsuit.

A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled on Tuesday that belting out the tune in public should be free of charge, dismissing a copyright claim by Warner Music.

Warner Chappell Music does "not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics," Judge George King determined.

The decision brings to a close a two-year legal battle launched against Warner by a musician and a film-maker making a movie about the ubiquitous song.

Warner had asked the pair to pay US$1,500 (S$2,131) for the rights to play the tune in the movie.

But Rupa Marya and Robert Siegel argued that the song, penned in the late 19th century, belonged in the public domain and was not properly copyrighted.

Warner, which in 1988 bought the company that previously claimed ownership of the song, argued that the song was given legal copyright protection in 1935 and that the copyright remained valid.

The song, the most widely sung tune in the English language according to the Guinness World Records book, was originally written for kindergarteners and was titled Good Morning To All. It has been translated into at least 18 languages.

It almost landed the United States Congress in trouble in the 1980s after lawmakers sang the tune to then President Ronald Reagan.

Warner could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.