"Happy Birthday To You" Copyright Put Into Question

"Happy Birthday To You" Copyright Put Into Question
For as long as anyone can likely remember, "Happy Birthday to You" has been a steady fixture on the birthday scene. It’s a song virtually everyone in the Western world breaks out at least once a year and has in fact become the most popular song in the English language, according to Guinness.

But did you know "Happy Birthday to You" is copyrighted? Did you know it produces more than $2 million a year for Warner Music and the descendents of Mildred and Patty Hill, who composed the song in 1893? Did you know poor, little Girl Scouts have to cough up their cookie money to pay licensing fees every time they sing it at a camp-out?

Well, whether you already knew all this or not, the revenue-generating days of "Happy Birthday to You" may soon be over. According to Robert Brauneis of George Washington University, "Happy Birthday to You" likely is no longer covered by any copyright, and hasn’t been for decades. In a recently published research paper, Brauneis argues that the only reason Warner and the Hills keep raking in all that birthday cash is because no one has taken them to court to prove they don’t own the rights.

As Matthew Ingram pointed out earlier this week in his Globe and Mail column, Brauneis’s research shows that, while the Hills may have written the original version of the song — a children’s song called "Good Morning to You” — there is no evidence they composed the version with the birthday lyrics. Therefore, Warner’s claims to own the rights are invalid, Brauneis argues in his 69-page page study, available here.

So what’s Exclaim!’s take on all this? Let’s follow Brauneis’s lead. Let’s take these Hills and their Warner to court. "Happy Birthday to You" should be free from its copyrighted prison, and little boys and girls everywhere should be allowed to belt it out as they see fit. Forking over cash to sing the beloved ditty is just wrong and, well, kind of mean.