LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Los Angeles federal judge ruled today that "Happy Birthday'' -- billed as the most recognized song in the English language -- is in the public domain and not legally owned by a music publisher.
In granting early judgment to musician Rupa Marya and filmmaker Robert Siegel, U.S. District Judge George H. King determined that defendant Warner/Chappell Music does "not own a valid copyright in the 'Happy Birthday' lyrics."
Warner/Chappell's head of legal affairs, Scott McDowell, was unavailable for comment.
According to the 2013 lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles by Marya and Siegel, the song penned in the late 19th century was never properly copyrighted and belongs in the public domain.
The plaintiffs further argued that Warner/Chappell Music should return millions of dollars collected in license fees over the years.
The music publishers have reportedly been collecting as much as $2 million annually for use of the ditty.
Los Angeles-based Warner/Chappell -- which acquired the company that previously claimed ownership of the song -- argued that the tune was given legal copyright protection in 1935 and the publisher has the right to collect fees on the song.