Filmmaker picks a copyright fight with “Happy Birthday”

23 09 2013
Filmmakers and TV producers have long been harassed by Warner/Chappell Music, a subsidiary of Time Warner that enforces the copyright on “Happy Birthday,” probably the most popular song in the world. If that song pops up in any TV show or movie, the creators are sure to get a hefty bill. The makers of the critically acclaimed 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams had to pay $5,000 for a scene of one of the protagonists’ families singing the song. By 1996, Warner/Chappell was pulling in more than $2 million per year from licensing.Now there’s a new documentary about the song, and of course, the filmmakers had to pay the fee for a “synchronization license”—it was $1,500.

But it sure didn’t sit well with them. Yesterday, Good Morning To You, the company that made the documentary, filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to prove once and for all that the copyright on “Happy Birthday” is long dead.


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