Happy Birthday Song

Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday to you.

Happy birthdayOops. I better stop there because that song is owned by the giant Warner Music Group and they may charge me a licensing fee if I go any further.  And you probably thought the song freely belonged to everyone.  Shame on you!

According to the Guinness Book of Records, “Happy Birthday to You” is the most recognized song in the English language, beating out “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” but the producers of the movie “Hoop Dreams” had to pay a $5,000 licensing fee for the characters to sing it in only one scene.  According to the New York Times, a current filmmaker, Jennifer Nelson, is fighting a $1,500 fee for a performance of  the song in a documentary she is making about it.  Previous producers probably found it cheaper to just pay.

The melody first appeared in the late 1880s in a song “Good Morning to All” written by two sisters, Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill.  Patty was a kindergarten principal and Mildred was a pianist and composer.  They wanted a song that young children could easily sing.  The combination of the melody and the familiar words of “Happy Birthday to You” first appeared in print in 1912 without copyright or credit and again in 1924 as another verse of “Good Morning to All.”

Warner claims that the United States copyright it owns will not expire until 2030, and that public performances of the song are illegal unless royalties are paid to them.  Law researchers and professors have doubted the copyright is valid, so it is high time a decision is made.

Have we been living in sin all these years?  Go, Jennifer!


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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