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decades of fun

Happy Birthday Enters Public Domain

One of the funnier/sadder stories of licensing and copyright folly involves the beloved song “Happy Birthday”. It’s origin is a 1890’s kids song with different lyrics, but somehow it was copyrighted in 1935 and that copyright was eventually acquired by Warner/Chapell music.

In the last couple of decades Warner/Chapell has been enforcing that copyright and collecting fees to use the song. While they don’t try to monitor casual use, aka singing at birthday parties, they do expect payment if it is used for commercial purposes. This is why you don’t hear it sung often in recorded music, TV shows, movies, or commercials.

 

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A federal judge just ruled the copyright is for the music only, not lyrics, therefore making the overall copyright unenforceable (not sure why).

Warner/Chapell is also ordered to return up to $5 million in royalties collected for the song. I’m sure they will appeal but it’s a good first step in ending the tyranny of enforcing 115 year old copyrights, which should have already expired.

 

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