Is ‘Happy Birthday’ Still Under Copyright?
June 14, 2013 | 9:59 pm
By Joanna Cabot
Mike Masnick has a great write-up about a pending lawsuit that finally challenges the copyright claim Warner/Chappell Music has been enforcing for decades over the ‘Happy Birthday’ song.
I remember first hearing about this odd little copyright issue during an episode of the late but great sitcom, “Sports Night.” The main characters were two sports newscasters, and in one episode, one of them sings “Happy Birthday to You,” briefly, to his co-worker on air. He is later visited by a dour rep from legal who advises him that the station was fined by the copyright owners of the song, Mildred and Patty Hill.
As Masnick explains, that claim is dubious. The Hill sisters, if they did write anything, wrote a song called “Good Morning to All.” Or, more likely, they wrote a specific piano arrangement of the song, which was extant already. If Warner/Chappell ‘owns’ anything, they own that specific arrangement.
The problem has been that nobody had the funds (or inclination) to challenge them on their dubious claims—until now.
From the article:
The creatively named Good Morning to You Productions, a documentary film company planning a film about the song Happy Birthday, has now filed a lawsuit concerning the copyright of Happy Birthday and are seeking to force Warner/Chappell to return the millions of dollars it has collected over the years. That’s going to make this an interesting case.