Since childhood everybody is acquainted with the song Happy Birthday -“Good morning to all” .Recently, the U.S. Federal judge has ruled that the company Warner Chappel Music collecting royalties for “Happy Birthday To You” does not hold a valid copyright to the song and the publishers have been collecting the royalties since 1988 when it bought from Clayton F Summy Co who claimed to be the original Copyright holders.
It’s estimated that around $2 million a year is the earning for the publishers by charging every time whenever the song being used in a film, television serials, advertisement or other public performance. Dispute started in 2013 when Rupa Marya and Robert Siegal who were making a film about the song and they were asked to pay $1,500 (about a Lac in Indian rupee) by the publishers for the right to use “Happy Birthday To You” . As per the contentions of Ms Rupand & Mr Robert the song was in the PUBLIC DOMAIN and no copyright royalty to be paid.
As told to BBC Radio 4’s Today by Mark Rifkin, one of the lawyers who represented the plaintiffs that “they have done exhaustive historical research and nowhere they could find that the publisher owned any Copyright other than copyrights to four very specific piano arrangements”. As reported, in next round , (hopefully) they will be filing separate suit after reading the current judgement to return all the money that have been collected wrongfully from 1988 onward by the publishers. !!.
In Indian context , not aware who collects on behalf of Warner Music but as such public domain provisions are concerned on sound recording and cinematographic films , its for 50 years if it’s produced before 28 Dec 1991 and any production from 29 Dec 1991 it’s for 60 years vide notification issued in the gazette of India on 28 December 1991 under Copyright (Amendment) Ordinance 1991 read with repeals, savings and transitional provision under Section 79(5) of Copyright Act 1957. Referral case on the term of Copyright in India for Public Domain : Newspaper Ltd v. Ratna Shankar Prasad AIR 1977 ALL 356 (Division bench of Allahabad High Court).
To sum up, as such sound recording and cinematographic films are concerned as of date till 1964 ( Nineteen Sixty four ) ( not 1954) all songs and films are in Public Domain and no embroilment on this subject but on the literary and musical work (technically royalty to be paid because the term of Copyright is calculated from the date of the death of the author) but author’s existing Copyright itself is in complex legal dispute. Once the existing rights are established ( which is currently pending before the Honourable Supreme Court of India ) then only Public domain issue can be resolved on the Literary and Musical work. Till that time perhaps no relief to “Happy Birthday song” in case of any law suit filed in India….