"Happy Birthday to You" is a 120-year-old tune sung every day in every corner of the United States -- from sea to shining Chuck E. Cheese -- but try to use it in a movie or TV show and prepare to pay up. At a hearing on Monday for a class-action suit aiming to wrest the song to public domain, a rep from its owner, Warner/Chappell Music, hinted at the kind of money that the publisher charges for its use.
Courthouse News is reporting that Warner/Chappell's head of legal affairs, Scott McDowell, told U.S. District Judge George King in federal court that a basic license to synch the song costs between $500 to $1,500, but that a major motion picture could go as high as five or six figures. That said, the fee scale appears to depend on the size of the project. One of the plaintiffs, filmmaker Robert Siegel, later said that he paid $3,000 to use "Happy Birthday" in his indie film Big Fan.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2013 by Good Morning to You Productions, which paid Warner/Chappell $1,500 to use the song in a documentary. The production company wants Warner/Chappell to reimburse the money it has collected in music synch licenses -- a sum it says has reached millions of dollars.