‘Happy Birthday' Settlement Calls for$14 Million Payout Fund

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By Anandashankar Mazumdar

Feb. 9 — Warner/Chappell Music Inc. will set up a $14 million fund to repay those who have over the last 60-plus years paid fees to license use of “Happy Birthday to You!,” under the terms of a settlement agreement filed Feb. 8 with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The parties announced their intent to settle the claims in early December, but that filing did not disclose the terms of settlement . The parties have now disclosed their agreement to the court to seek approval of the terms for the entire class of licensees that the plaintiffs sought to represent.

In September, the court ruled that Warner/Chappell did not hold any copyright interest in the “Happy Birthday” lyrics. The underlying melody and the original “Good Morning to You” lyrics are public domain.

Parties Do Not Surrender Their Arguments

The agreement does not require any of the parties to admit that settlement implies their positions were wrong.

Indeed, there is a term of the agreement in which Warner and the other defendants and intervenors “deny any liability or wrongdoing of any kind associated with the claims alleged.”

They further deny that Warner does not hold a copyright interest, that the song is in the public domain, and that there is any cause of action suitable for class action treatment.

The intervenors—the Association for Childhood Education International and the Hill Foundation Inc.—are also part of the settlement, although they, too, do not surrender their claims that, if Warner was never transferred the copyright, then they hold it.

Under the terms, individuals who paid Warner or its predecessors in interest—the Harry Fox Agency, Alfred Music Inc. or Faber Music Ltd.—for use of the song will have to provide documentation of payment for licenses and submit a specified claim form in order to seek a portion of the settlement fund.

The court will have to approve the settlement, and members of the defined class of licensees will get a chance to object to its terms before final approval.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anandashankar Mazumdar in Washington at amazumdar@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek in Washington at mwilczek@bna.com

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