The music to the song “Happy Birthday to You” consists of just a few stanzas, and the lyrics contain only five words, not including the name of the celebrant. And yet it is estimated to have earned $50 million dollars since its creation, making it the highest earning single song in history. For decades the creators of film and television shows have avoided the song and the royalty fees they’d be obliged to pay, sometimes substituting “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” sometimes elaborately evading its performance to poke fun at the restriction.
On July 14, the U-M Library’s Copyright Camp will feature an interview with Mark Rifkin, the lead counsel in the class action lawsuit that successfully challenged Warner/Chappell Music’s copyright claim to “Happy Birthday to You,” thereby making the song available for public performance and use. Rifkin is a senior partner at a New York law firm and a nationally-recognized commercial trial litigator. The lead plaintiff on the case, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson, has characterized the lawsuit as a “campaign to liberate the people’s song.”
Rifkin, who is lead counsel on pending class actions challenging the copyrights to the famous civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” and to “This Land Is Your Land,” will be interviewed by Susan M. Kornfield, chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group of Bodman PLC, who teaches intellectual property practice at the U-M School of Law.
The interview is scheduled for 1:30-3:00 in the Gallery, Hatcher Graduate Library, and will be followed by a reception.
The interview follows the Copyright Camp morning sessions, which run from 10:00am to 12:00pm followed by lunch. The sessions include an introductory workshop aimed at participants with little or no prior experience with copyright law, and a discussion group that will take a deep dive into the Supreme Court case Eldred v. Ashcroft, which upheld the constitutionality of the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, a law sometimes derisively called The Mickey Mouse Protection Act for having delayed the entry into the public domain of the earliest Mickey Mouse movies. Registration is required for the morning sessions.
Copyright Camp is an annual event hosted by the U-M Library Copyright Office, whose aim is to educate and inform the campus community about their rights and responsibilities when creating and using intellectual property and copyrighted material.
All Copyright Camp events are free and open to the public. U-M affiliates can register for the morning sessions via the Teaching Technology Collaborative website, and non-affiliates can contact Ana Enriquez of the U-M Library Copyright Office.