By Molly Daly

By Molly Daly

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A federal judge has ruled that a music publishing giant has no right to collect royalties for “Happy Birthday to You.”

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The plaintiffs included a group of filmmakers who are making a movie about the song.

The copyright claim by Warner/Chappell is why you seldom hear the traditional happy birthday lyrics sung on TV and in movies, because the publishing company charges users through the nose for its use.

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But a U.S. District judge has ruled that the copyright filed 80 years ago was only for specific arrangements of the song.
The tune itself goes back to 1893, composed by a pair of sisters who never asserted a legal claim to the lyrics.

Amy Landers, Professor of Law and director of the Intellectual Property Law program at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Drexel University, says some legal questions remain.

“The next step in the case, I understand, will be the court’s determination of whether the royalties that have been collected to date will be returned.”

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At around two million bucks a year, that’s not chump change.