The documentary film The Corporation states that Warner/Chappell charged up to US$10,000 for the song to appear in a film. Because of the copyright issue, filmmakers rarely showed complete singalongs of "Happy Birthday" in films, either substituting the public-domain "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" or avoiding using a song entirely. Before the song was copyrighted it was used freely, as in Bosko's Party, a Warner Bros. cartoon of 1932, where a chorus of animals sings it twice through. The copyright status of "Happy Birthday to You" is directly referenced in a 2009 episode of the TV series iCarly, "iMake Sam Girlier", in which the main character as well as others begin to sing the song to Sam but are prevented from doing so by Freddie, who says the song isn't public domain; "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow" is then sung instead.
The American copyright status of "Happy Birthday to You" began to draw more attention with the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998. When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Act in Eldred v. Ashcroft in 2003, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer specifically mentioned "Happy Birthday to You" in his dissenting opinion. American law professor Robert Brauneis, who extensively researched the song, concluded in 2010 that "It is almost certainly no longer under copyright." In 2013, based in large part on Brauneis's research, Good Morning to You Productions, a company producing a documentary about "Good Morning to All", sued Warner/Chappell for falsely claiming copyright to the song. In September 2015, a federal judge declared that the Warner/Chappell copyright claim was invalid, ruling that the copyright registration applied only to a specific piano arrangement of the song, and not to its lyrics and melody. In 2016, Warner/Chappell settled for US $14 million, and the court declared that "Happy Birthday to You" was in the public domain.