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Lawsuit Questions Ownership of World's Most Performed Song

Popular Disney charactor Donald Duck gestures to a cake as he performs on the eve of his birthday during "Disney Magic" event in Bangalore, June 8, 2013.
The song millions sing at birthday parties around the world is the subject of a new lawsuit in New York. A filmmaker wants a federal court to declare that "Happy Birthday to You" is in the public domain and therefore not subject to the U.S. copyright law.

Owners of the copyright are being sued by filmmaker Jennifer Nelson, wants to use the song in a new documentary with the working title of "Happy Birthday." She says she was asked to pay $1,500 dollars to a publishing firm, Warner/Chapell, which is associated with the Warner Music Group.

The familiar melody was composed more than 100 years ago by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill with the title, "Good Morning to All." Over the years it evolved into its current version, which is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the most recognized song in the English language and has been translated into numerous languages.

The suit claims that the song "Happy Birthday to You" is a "public adaptation" of the original and therefore it "belongs to the public."

The lawer for Nelson says the suit also asks the Warner/Chapell to return all the fees for the song collected in the past four years, estimated to be about $2 million per year.

A spokesman for Warner/Chapell declined to comment.