Yesterday, a federal judge summarily ruled that the infamous song, “Happy Birthday To You” is not copyrighted. Time-Warner bought the company that bought the company that bought the company that bought some rights to the song in the ’30s. The paperwork was vague, so the lawyers interpreted it to make lots of money for the alleged copyright holder.
The royalties currently add up to about $2 million a year. The plaintiffs in the copyright case are starting a class action suit to recover some of the royalties that Time Warner and its predecessors collected improperly.
The point of copyright and patents is to encourage people to create things. The copyright gives a legal monopoly over the work for some number of years. Modern patents last about 20 years. Copyrights used to last 28 years. Now they last 70 years past the death of the author. Clearly this has nothing to do with paying authors. It has everything to do with selling a DVD containing black-and-white Disney cartoons.