Warner had been enforcing its copyright claim since it paid US$15 million (NZ$23m) to buy Birch Tree Group, the successor to Clayton F. Summy Co., which owned the original copyright. Royalties on the song bring in about US$2 million (NZ$3.1m) a year for Warner, according to some estimates.
Judge George H. King ruled on Tuesday (Wednesday, NZ time) that a copyright filed by the Summy Co. in 1935 granted only the rights to specific arrangements of the music, not the actual song itself.
Tuesday’s ruling means that the song is now considered a public work and is free for everyone to use without fear of having to pay royalties, according to a statement from the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
A good example of the need to reform copyright law. The maximum term of copyright should be the life of the author + 20 years.