You Can Now Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ Without Fear Of Copyright Infringement
Unless you’re extremely well informed or extremely paranoid, you may not be aware that every time you sung your little peanut “Happy Birthday” you were violating a copyright. In fact, so were your parents, and so were their parents. The song, which has its origins in the late 19th century, has actually been under copyright control since the mid-1930s — but everyone can rest easy because U.S. District Judge George H. King has just made officially what we all instinctively know: It makes no damn sense for “Happy Birthday” to be owned by anyone.
The judge’s ruling comes in a case brought, in part, by filmmaker Jennifer Nelson, who was working on a documentary about the tune when she realized that the timeline of the song’s ownership didn’t quite add up. The most recent owner, music publishing giant Warner/Chappell, acquired the song in 1998. But King’s ruling is based the original sale of the song, which apparently was specific to a piano arrangement and not the song lyrics. No big deal; Warner/Chappell was only making about $2 million a year charging film and TV producers who wanted authentic-sounding birthday scenes in their productions.
Now that one of the world’s most sung songs is finally in the public domain, you can rest easy knowing that, once a year, you’re not at risk of Junior’s college fund getting sucked dry by music publishing lawyers just because you wanted the kid to have a happy birthday.