-- With a federal judge ruling that "Happy Birthday to You" is in the public domain, the people who coughed up to use the popular song may be able to get back the money they paid to license it.
Two years after plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Warner/Chappell Music, Judge George King of the Central District of California ruled Tuesday that revelers, and anyone else for that matter, don't have to pay a license fee for the tune sung at countless birthday parties for over a century. Warner/Chappell charged up to $100,000 or more for a single use of the song, according to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The tune can be traced to sisters Mildred and Patty Smith Hill, who in the late 1880s wrote a song with the same melody called "Good Morning to All." In 1988, Warner/Chappell bought Birchtree Ltd., a company that held the rights to the birthday song.
Here are some of the examples of people who paid to use the tune:
Majar Productions produced a documentary that follows the lives of cinematographers László Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond. Majar used the song in a scene in which Zsigmond and others sing "Happy Birthday to You" to Kovacs. Majar Productions paid $5,000 for a license to use the song.
Filmmaker Jennifer Nelson was one of the four plaintiffs who filed the class-action lawsuit under her company Good Morning to You Productions in June 2013 in Los Angeles federal court.
"This is a great victory for musicians, artists, and people around the world who have waited decades for this," Nelson said in a statement. "I am thrilled to be a part of the historic effort to set 'Happy Birthday' free and give it back to the public where it belongs."
Rupa Marya, leader of the band Rupa & the April Fishes, recorded "Happy Birthday" at a live concert in San Francisco in 2013 on the eve of her birthday. At midnight, the band and audience serenaded her with the song. She paid $455 to include the song on her album "Live at the Independent."
Robert Siegel was the president of Big Fan Productions, which produced the movie "Big Fan." In 2009, he paid $3,000 to license the song.
Daniel Schacht, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, told ABC News that Tuesday's copyright ruling is only part one of the lawsuit. The next step is to certify the class and determine what the total damages are.
"This ruling affects everyone who sings 'Happy Birthday' in the future, whether at a restaurant or in a movie. The next stage of the lawsuit is about the people who already paid money to Warner/Chappell to license the song," Schacht said.