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First off today, Christine Mai-Duc at the Los Angeles Times reports that a federal judge has ruled that Warner/Chappell music’s claimed copyright in the song Happy Birthday to You is invalid and the 1935 copyright registration they control only grants them the right to that specific arrangement, not the song in its entirety.
The move, which effectively puts the song in the public domain, comes as part of an ongoing legal battle between a documentary filmmaker who sued Warner/Chappell after she was forced to pay royalties to use the song in her film. They are seeking class action status to force Warner/Chappell to repay all royalties they’ve collected over the past few years, claiming that the organization should have known the song was public domain.
The song’s origins span all the way back to 1893, where two sisters wrote the song Good Morning to All for the class they taught. That song then morphed into Happy Birthday to You though exactly when and how is unclear due to the age. Still, Warner/Chappell claimed to control a 1935 registration of the song, but the court ruled that the Hill sisters did not convey the rights to the publisher in that registration, meaning it doesn’t apply to the full song.
Next up today, Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter Esquire reports that DC Comics has won a key decision before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled that the company can hold a copyright in the Batmobile.
The case involves Mark Towle, a mechanic who was sued in 2011 for making replicas of Batmobiles, including the from the 1960s TV show and the 1989 film by Tim Burton. Towle had argued that the Batmobile was just a “useful article” that did not qualify for copyright protection.
However, the appeals court has ruled that not only does the car qualify for copyright protection, but that it is distinctive enough that DC Comics did not transfer its rights when it sold licenses to produce derivative works.
Finally today, Aimee Chanthadavong at ZDNet reports that Malcolm Turnbull, the new Prime Minister of Australia, has relieved Attorne-General George Brandis from copyright and classification duties, which will now be handled by the country’s new Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield.
The move comes as part of a broader shuffle in the Australian government as Turnbull replaced former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Shortly after taking office, Turnbull has been reshuffling the cabinet, including the specific duties of each position within it.
Brandis had been a strong advocate for cracking down on piracy, declaring that Australia is one of the worst nations for piracy. Brandis oversaw the passing of site blocking legislation and some of the strongest anti-piracy legislation in the world. It is unclear what changes, if any, Fifield will bring to the position.
That’s it for the three count today. We will be back tomorrow with three more copyright links. If you have a link that you want to suggest a link for the column or have any proposals to make it better. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. I hope to hear from you.