You Can Now Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ With Impunity
If you've ever wondered why the waitstaff in a restaurant sings that, "Happy, Happy, Birthday" song to patrons, it's because for ages everyone just sort of took it for granted that the song was copyrighted. Well, it turns out that the most ubiquitous song on the planet is now Public Domain.
I guess the story of "Happy Birthday" is well known, but in case you missed it; The song was written, in part, by the Hill sisters. They took the song, "Good Morning to You" and changed the lyrics to fit anyone's birthday. For ages it was common knowledge that the song was under copyright and that the royalties all went to the Hill family. That's why restaurants and such sang the alternate birthday song. As it turns out there was no copyright on the part of the Hill family and all those royalties went to Warner/Chappell Publishing since they bought the rights ages ago.
In September, Chief U.S. District Judge George King in Los Angeles ruled that Warner/Chappell, the music publishing arm of privately owned Warner Music Group, did not own a copyright to the Happy Birthday lyrics.
Prior to this new decision, Warner/Chappell took in about $2 million a year in royalties. What will they do for a living now that the cash cow has been slaughtered. I'm also wondering if, as it turns out, there never was a copyright, will they have to pay back all that money. What a sobering thought for the publisher!
Next time you go to Chili's for your birthday, tell them you want the original version. It's free!