Happy Birthday Song and Chocolate Bears – The Importance of Copyright
25 September 2015 by Ashton Carter
With monkey selfies subject to new court cases and arguments and Haribo facing off against Lindt on the supermarket shelves, copyright has been all over the news this week. Here we take a look at how important intellectual property is and how even your birthday celebrations are getting dragged into the copyright news…
It is becoming increasingly important for all business, traders and even individuals to ensure their intellectual property and copyright in materials they are producing or inventing are fully protected.
Intellectual property protection is often viewed as an unnecessary expense by businesses, considering the sizeable fees charged by the various intellectual property offices for trademark, design and patent registration.
Furthermore, the complex process of registration (although this has been significantly simplified in the past few years) for intellectual property, is again a deterrent to most looking to protect their ideas, concepts, brand or designs.
However, two recent cases from around the globe and involving huge enterprises, have highlighted the need for sufficient intellectual property protection, no matter to size or remit of your organisation or business.
The first of these was in relation to the well-know and much-loved ‘Happy Birthday’ song. For years, one entity: Warner/Chappell, had claimed the rights in this illustrious tune, as a result of their purchase in 1988 of Birch Tree Group, being the successor to Clayton F Summy Co who in turn claimed to own the copyright of the song originally composed by two Kentucky sisters in 1893.
Since this date, Warner/Chappell had been charging and claiming royalties on each use of the tune in all advertisements, movies and other media, resulting in an anticipated receipt of approximately $2,000,000 per annum since 1988.
However, when Rupa Marya and Robert Siegel approached Warner/Chappell in order to gain their consent to make a film about the ‘Happy Birthday’ song and were informed of the level of royalties they were expected to pay, they decided to take legal action disputing Warner/Chappell’s entitlement to do so.
The Judge hearing the case in the US found in favour of Rupa Marya and Robert Siegel and ruled that the originators of the song had given Summy Co “the rights to the melody, and the rights to piano arrangements based on the melody, but never any rights to the lyrics“.
As part of the decision Rupa Marya and Robert Siegel intend to seek repayment from Warner/Chappell for all monies they have collected over the years from everyone who has had to pay a licensing fee or royalty to use the song. Such recovery is intended to go back to at least 1988 and could result in an astronomical amount of money being repaid by Warner/Chappell.
Despite the ruling, the song still remains under copyright in the UK and other countries around the world and therefore, the above decision should not be taken as a precedent going forward.
Further developments within the remit of intellectual property was the recent decision of the Courts that the gold-wrapped bear of Lindt was not infringing the copyright of Haribo’s ‘Gold Bears’ motif and product.
The above demonstrate how critical it is to ensure your copyright and other intellectual property rights are formalised or formally registered, so that there can be no disputes as to ownership or entitlement. Formal protection and registration of intellectual property can also avoid disputes as to infringement of any such intellectual property.
We here at Fisher Jones Greenwood LLP can assist you with all of the your copyright and intellectual property requirements, from registration to copyright protection and enforcement proceedings. Should you wish to discuss your intellectual property or that of your business, please contact our Corporate Commercial Department on 01245 584515 or [email protected]