The song “Happy Birthday” is entering the public domain after 120 years.
The popular 16 word song, written by sisters Mildred and Patty Hill, was sold to Clayton F. Summy in 1893. Summy’s company was later bought by Warner Music Group in 1998.
Warner/Chappel, a global music publishing company, was claiming global rights to “Happy Birthday To You” and was collecting upwards of $2 million in annual fees from the song.
Class action lawsuits brought against the company are now being settled for $14 million.
The settlement will also send “Happy Birthday To You,” one of the most popular songs in the English language, into the public domain.
Judge George H. King will still have to sign off on the settlement. No party admits any wrongdoing.
In September 2015, Judge King ruled that the copyright had expired and the song was in the public domain, but his ruling was quickly appealed.
The soon-to-be settled lawsuit argued that Warner/Chappell had made more than $2 million a year in fees from the song, without actually owning the rights to the song.
The complaint was filed by Good Morning To You Productions, which is making a documentary film about the tune. The company argued that the copyright for the song ended in 1921.
While “Happy Birthday To You” has been sung free of charge at private parties, it has been an expensive license for TV, music, and film companies.