Due to music licensing, it usually costs money to use or perform a musical work that someone owns the copyright on. The exception to this is when a piece of music is in the public domain. This is basically when the copyright expires (copyright rules differ for different parts of the world so I won’t get into that here).
Back in 2016, it was reported that Warner Chappell music publisher was ordered to pay back £9.6 million to people who had paid a license to use ‘Happy Birthday to You’ as the court ruling declared it as a public domain song.
Warner/Chappell claim they had bought the copyright to Happy Birthday in 1935, however, the original tune is said to date back to the 19th century and is the same melody as a children’s song called Good Morning to You. Warner/Chappell maintained that they had copyright ownership on the track and were estimated to make £1.4 million per year from use of it in films and media, even if it was just sung in a scene.
This ruling means that anyone can now create their own version of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ and offer their own licensing terms and fees for use of it. This is great news for music users as they can now license it in their film or production for a much lower fee as Royalty Free and Stock Music sites create their own versions. Here are ours, there are 11 of them.