Filmmakers fighting “Happy Birthday” copyright find their “smoking gun”

Who owns the copyright to the “Happy Birthday” song? According to Snopes:

Summy-Birchard, a subsidiary of Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., the publishing arm of Warner Music Group, now claims to be the sole owner of copyright to the song “Happy Birthday to You” and collects an estimated $2 million per year in licensing fees (a portion of which are paid to Association for Childhood Education International) on that basis, and they will continue to do so through at least the year 2030.

But here’s the latest…

Plaintiffs acquired their own copies of the songbook, including a first edition published in 1916, which didn’t have the song, and versions published 1922 and later, which include it without a copyright notice.That’s critical, because under the 1909 Copyright Act which was then in force, a published work had to include the word “Copyright,” the abbreviation “Copr., ” or the “©” symbol, or “the published work was interjected irrevocably into the public domain.”The plaintiffs argue that the 1922 publication without proper notice forfeited copyright in the work. Even if the judge overseeing the case doesn’t agree with them, however, there’s a secondary argument: the copyright for the whole 1922 songbook expired in 1949.There’s even a third line of defense: even if the work had been published in 1922 with proper notice, and even if that copyright had been renewed in 1949 (which the plaintiffs say it wasn’t), the song still would have become public domain at midnight on December 31, 1997. —Ars Technica