The headlines last Tuesday blared, 'Happy Birthday found to be in the public domain.' Unfortunately and confusingly, they were incorrect. A judge's ruling in a suit filed two years against the ostensible current rights holders for the lyrics to that song, Warner-Chappell Music, didn't decide that.
Instead, the judge found that Warner-Chappell lacked valid rights to the lyrics, whether or not they remained under copyright protection, even as it collected fees to the tune of $2 million a year. The lyrics - but not the music of Happy Birthday - may still have outstanding legal protection almost 125 years after they were allegedly conceived. It may never be known for sure whether those rights exist.