“Happy Birthday to You” is Now Public Domain

Bet you didn’t know “Happy Birthday”, one of the most recognized songs in the English language, was under copyright with Warner, until last week.

Yep! In fact, it has generated significant revenue for Warner since 1988, especially in movies. The licensing fee can be as much as $1,500 to $5,000, which has inspired a number of productions to create alternative versions of the song.

Check out this video to see some examples:

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, a federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled Warner/Chappell publishing company never had the right to charge for the use of “Happy Birthday to You”.

In 1893, Mildred and Patty Hill published it in a book entitled Song Stories for the Kindergarten. They borrowed the melody from a similar popular song of the era and changed the lyrics to “Good Morning to All”. Patty Hill, a kindergarten principal in Kentucky, encouraged her students to sing it at the beginning of school each morning. It became so popular; her students began to spontaneously sing it at birthday parties, changing the words to “ Happy Birthday to You”.

In 1935, The Clayton Summy Co. published a piano arrangement of “Happy Birthday to You” attributing the composition to Preston Orem and R. R. Forman. The copyright to this particular arrangement was eventually purchased by Warner in 1988. Warner incorrectly charged a fee for any and all versions of “Happy Birthday to You”, but they actually only owned the copyright to a specific piano arrangement. Amazing!

So you can relax. No one’s going to take half of your birthday cake, or a percentage of your birthday presents. : )

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