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'Happy Birthday' ruling a gift to all Americans

'Happy Birthday' ruling a gift to all Americans

A federal judge's ruling that "Happy Birthday to You" is not under copyright, or at least not under one held by publisher Warner/Chappell Music, means that one of the most popular songs in the English language may belong to the public after all. That won't affect the people who sing it at private birthday parties; Warner/Chappell hadn't tried to collect royalties from them. But it will be a boon to filmmakers, TV studios and others who have paid an estimated $2 million annually in licensing fees to use the song commercially, even if they're just depicting people at a birthday party singing it.

Independent filmmakers initiated the lawsuit that led to the decision, arguing...