The US Department of Justice (DOJ) formally announced last Thursday that it would not make any changes to the language in the consent decrees that govern the operations of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), the two largest US performing rights organizations (PROs). This ends a two-year DOJ investigation into public performance licensing that took place at the request of the two PROs.
Details of the settlement reached in the case concerning ownership of the song “Happy Birthday To You” were released today with a filing in United States District Court. In the settlement, originally announced in December but which the court has only now been asked to approve, Warner/Chappell agreed to pay $14 million to licensors as well as $4.6 million in legal fees for the other parties in the suit.
The case centered on whether Warner/Chappell ever actually owned the lyrics to the song it acquired during its purchase of Clayton F. Summy Co., in 1988. Since then, it’s been estimated that the song generated about $2 million in yearly income through licensing.
“Happy Birthday To You” was written by Patty Smith Hill and her sister Mildred J. Hill in 1893 and will now officially become public domain, free for anyone to use without further permission.