Chief Judge George King of the Central District of California issued a decision yesterday (PDF) in favour of plaintiffs who argued that Warner/Chappel Music had no right to collect royalties for “Happy Birthday To You” in the United States. After tracing the history of the song back to the 1890s, he concluded that Warner/Chappell Music’s predecessor never acquired the rights to the Happy Birthday lyrics from the purported authors.
In Canada, it appears that copyright in the song likely expired almost 20 years ago. Both purported authors of the song, sisters Patty Hill and Mildred Hill have passed away, Patty in 1946 and Mildred in 1916. Pursuant to s.6 of the Copyright Act, the term of copyright, being 50 years following the end of the calendar year in which the author dies, expired in 1996.
In another copyright decision released this week relating to significant culture works, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeal released a decision (PDF) confirming that the Batmobile was protected by copyright protection as a ‘copyrightable character’. In DC Comics v. Mark Towle, Judge Ikuta for the court wrote:
Courts have recognized that copyright protection extends not only to an original work as a whole, but also to “sufficiently distinctive” elements, like comic book characters, contained within the work.
Not every comic book, television, or motion picture character is entitled to copyright protection. We have held that copyright protection is available only “for characters that are especially distinctive.”
In addition to its status as Batman’s loyal bat-themed sidekick complete with the character traits and physical characteristics described above, the Batmobile also has its unique and highly recognizable name. It is not merely a stock character.
Accordingly, applying our three-part test, we conclude that the Batmobile is a character that qualifies for copyright protection.
The Court concluded that the defendant had infringed the copyright by making unauthorized derivative works in the form of ‘batmobile’ vehicles for sale through his website, batmobilereplicas.com.