The District Court of California recently ruled that Warner/Chappell Music do not hold the rights to the 'Happy Birthday' song lyrics.

Assuming that this is not overturned, and given that Warner/Chappell have been pursuing and collecting royalties for the song for some time - a likely reason why, on television and movies, one doesn't hear it very often - are those who paid them entitled to recover the fees that they paid for its use?

And, I suppose it goes without saying, even if they can sue Warner Chappell, what are their prospects of success, based on legal principles, and maybe not so much based on their prospects of succeeding against such a large corporation?

1 Answer 1


This would be an example of an ex post facto application of a decision, and that's generally not something that occurs in US law.

  • 2
    I'm sure that there are a number of legal theories under which various parties could recover fees. And ex post application of the law implies some sort of automatic disgorgement. I think that some recovery scenarios will be fact specific, viz the facts of the contract granting the right to use. If any of those contracts mention the copyright holding status of Warner, there may be a contract remedy like mutual mistake of fact or something more compelling.
    – jqning
    Sep 30, 2015 at 2:30

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