A California federal judge has granted a Warner-Chappell Music Inc.’s motion to dismiss parts of a class action lawsuit alleging the company claimed bogus copyright protection for the popular “Happy Birthday” song, limiting the case to the issue of the copyright’s validity.
Warner filed the motion to dismiss portions of the class action lawsuit in September, asking the court to toss claims that the company violated California’s unfair business practices and false advertising laws by charging filmmakers to license the song. Warner also requested that two of the plaintiffs be dismissed from the class action lawsuit because their claims were barred by the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations.
Warner argued that because the central claim of the class action lawsuit is that the copyright for the “Happy Birthday” song has expired, the case must be governed by federal copyright law. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, argued that their claim over Warner’s patent is based on the Declaratory Judgment Act, which does not have a statute of limitations.
U.S. District Judge George H. King disagreed with the plaintiffs, finding that the Declaratory Judgment Act is merely a procedural tool. He said the validity of Warner’s copyright rests on an interpretation of the Copyright Act, which has a strict three-year statute of limitations.
Judge King ruled that he would stay all of the other claims until the central copyright claim has been decided. He also agreed with Warner that the three-year statute of limitations had passed for plaintiffs Robert Siegel and Majar Productions LLC and dismissed them from the class action lawsuit.
In their class action lawsuit, which was filed in June, the plaintiffs claim Warner has unlawfully collected millions of dollars in licensing fees for the “Happy Birthday” song. Warner claims that it holds the exclusive right to control distribution, reproductions and performances of the song. According to the class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs were forced to pay licensing fees to use the “Happy Birthday” song or risk a $150,000 penalty under the Copyright Act if they used the song without Warner’s permission.
Good Morning to You Productions Corp. (GMTY), a production company that is creating a documentary about the “Happy Birthday” song, claims that it has traced the origins of the song to 1893. They claim that the existence of a valid copyright on the song is debatable, but if there was a valid copyright, it expired in 1921 at the latest. Therefore, they argue, the song is in the public domain and Warner wrongfully collected licensing fees for its use.
The plaintiffs are represented by Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP, Donahue Gallagher Woods LLP and Randall S. Newman PC.
The Happy Birthday Song Class Action Lawsuit case is Good Morning to You Productions Corp., et al. v. Warner-Chappell Music Inc., et al., Case No. 2:13-cv-04460, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
UPDATE: On Sept. 22, 2015, a federal judge ruled that Warner/Chappell relied on an invalid copyright while collecting fees for the use of the Happy Birthday song.
UPDATE 2: On Feb. 9, 2016, Warner/Chappel Music Inc. and others agreed to pay $14 million and give up all claims that the song is copyrighted in order to settle the class action lawsuit.
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Top Class Actions is a Proud Member of the American Bar Association
LEGAL INFORMATION IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE
©2008 – 2016 Top Class Actions® LLC
Various Trademarks held by their respective owners
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