The song "Happy Birthday" is now as free as a birthday balloon with a loose string.
A US District Judge in Los Angeles approved a final settlement Monday in a lawsuit brought against music publisher Warner/Chappell, who owns the copyright on the birthday song, by half a dozen plaintiffs -- one of which is a Bay Area musician.
Under the terms of the settlement, Warner/Chappell will have to reimburse $14 million in licensing fees collected over the past 3 years to more than 200 claimants.
Berkeley’s Rupa Marya leads the band Rupa and the April Fishes and was one of the plaintiffs in the case. On Monday she got an assurance she’ll be reimbursed $455, the amount she paid Warner/Chappell for using Happy Birthday on a live album recorded in 2013.
“I feel so great about it,” Marya said, while riding a cab from the federal courthouse in Los Angeles to the airport for a flight home.
Marya says the case was not a protest against copyrights. She said, they're supposed to protect the work of artists, "so they can continue making a living off of their work. It’s not a commodity for corporations to beat artists up with."
Marya argues the case is also a symbolic victory for what many call "the commons."
“Things that belong to no one and everyone,” she said. “So many things, have been co-opted by corporations. The way Monsanto has patented the seeds the company sells to farmers. People should find an issue they care about, where the commons have been encroached upon, and find some lawyers, and go out and sue some corporations.”
Warner/Chappell didn’t return an email request for comment on the settlement.
Meanwhile the attorneys involved in the case are now challenging the copyrights to the song "We Shall Overcome," and Woody Guthrie’s "This Land is Your Land."