Filmmakers working on a documentary about the world's most popular song, "Happy Birthday to You," are currently suing Warner/Chappell for the right to use the song in the documentary without any license fee.
They filed court papers on Monday touting newly uncovered evidence that "proves conclusively that Warner holds no copyright to the Happy Birthday lyrics."
Good Morning to You Productions Corp., (run by director Jennifer Nelson), filed the class-action lawsuit after being told she'd have to pay $1,500 to use the song in her "Happy Birthday" documentary.
After first being reported by The Hollywood Reporter, news of the litigation spread across the globe and was called the "lawsuit for the ages" by The New York Times. "It went viral and I never thought it would happen like this," said Nelson.
The "proverbial smoking gun," as the plaintiffs put it to a California judge, is a book of children's songs that comes straight out of Warner/Chappell's digital library.
The 15th edition of The Everyday Song Book, published in 1927. The book contained Happy Birthday lyrics. Intrigued by the discovery, and looking for a cleaner version, the lawyers started hunting down earlier editions, and in the archives of The University of Pittsburgh, they came upon the fourth edition, published in 1922, which included the famous Happy Birthday song without any copyright notice.
This book, plaintiffs believe, establishes that "Happy Birthday" lyrics were dedicated to the public years before the copyright registration that Warner/Chappell is relying upon was made.
Randall Newman, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, says Warner/Chappell, "should admit defeat... but they won't because too much money is at stake."
Attorneys for Warner/Chappell weren't available for a response.