Thursday, September 3, 2015

A New Find Could Push The "Happy Birthday" Song Into The Public Domain

Happy Birthday image
If you ever wondered why the "Happy Birthday To You" song that you grew up with is often replaced with some lame version in restaurants, television and movies, it's because the song isn't in the public domain. Its copyright is owned by Warner/Chappell Music, which collects about $2 million a year in royalties from its use.

There have been numerous lawsuits over the years claiming that Warner/Chappell didn't actually own the copyright, but all were defeated. But some new recently discovered evidence might turn the tide the other way and return the song to the public domain.

 A librarian at the University of Louisville found the only known copy of "Good Morning To All," the song written by Louisville natives Mildred and Patty Hill and published in a children's book in 1893. The manuscript for the book was donated to the library in the 1950s but not cataloged.

Warner/Chappell acquired what it believed to be the copyright of "Happy Birthday To You" when it acquired the Clayton F. Summy Company in 1935. The company has aggressively defended its ownership of the song's copyright ever since.

A class action suit by a group of filmmakers, artists and musicians filed in 2013 claims that the song has been in the public domain all the while, and has asked that all the royalties collected by Warner/Chappell be returned. The new find in the Louisville library should add some weight to their claim.

It would be nice to have "Happy Birthday" back in the public domain, if for no other reason than to prevent hearing those bad substitutions ever again.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

All of the history and the mystery around this song is pretty interesting. Hopefully this law suit will at least resolve whether it's public domain or not. Thanks for sharing!


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