The 'Happy Birthday' tune belongs in the public domain and no company holds a valid copyright of the song, a US judge has ruled. Warner/Chappell, a music production company owned by the Warner Music Group, claimed it has copyright because in 1998 it acquired Birch Tree, which under its previous name of Clayton F Summy, bought copyrights to the popular tune in 1935. Its claim was only finalised in 1988.
In 1893, Kentucky sisters Mildred and Patty Hill composed the melody along with the the lyrics "Good Morning to All", not "Happy Birthday to you". Therefore, Judge George King ruled that this means the company only holds the rights to the exact musical composition of the original, but has no claim to the derivative tune and lyrics which form the basis of the Happy Birthday song.
In a written statement, King said: "Because Summy Co never acquired the rights to the Happy Birthday lyrics, [the] defendants, as Summy Co's purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics."
Since Warner/Chappell merged with Birch Tree, it has allegedly charged millions in royalties for use of the birthday song. In 2013, a new case brought the copyright chaos surrounding the song back into the pubic eye after film-makers Rupa Marya and Robert Siegel wanted to use it for a documentary about the tune. Warner/Chappell then demanded $1,500 in royalties of the song.