September 23, 2015


The "Happy Birthday" Song Is No Longer Copyrighted, Judge Rules

Angelika Schwarz via Getty Images
Angelika Schwarz via Getty Images

"Happy Birthday to You," no matter how many times you've sung it without paying anyone, has not been in the public domain. A federal ruling in L.A. on Tuesday has changed the candle-blowing game, though. 

"In a stunning reversal of decades of copyright claims, the judge ruled that Warner/Chappell never had the right to charge for the use of the 'Happy Birthday To You' song," the L.A. Times reports. "Warner had been enforcing a copyright since 1988, when it bought Birch Tree Group, the successor to Clayton F. Summy Co., which claimed the original disputed copyright."

That means you can now sing the song anytime you want, for whatever birthday you desire, without the creeping notion that someone might send you a bill if you're doing it for profit. Not that you worried about that anyway.

"'Happy Birthday' is finally free after 80 years," Randall Newman, the plaintiffs' attorney, said. "Finally, the charade is over. It's unbelievable." The plaintiffs in the case included filmmakers who are making a documentary about the long-sung song.

The song finds its origins in "Good Morning to All," penned by Patty and Mildred J. Hill in 1893 as a song kindergartners sang in the morning. The "Happy Birthday" lyrics were added some time later, though an exact date is not known, but first appeared in print in 1912.

For years, Warner had collected royalties on the song when it was performed during stage productions, movies, on greeting cards, you name it; the copyright was registered in 1935. Even people who wanted to sing it as part of a business, like a restaurant, were technically supposed to pay. That led to eateries often changing up the song in a way to avoid payment. 

What does that mean, then? That we can no longer get rousing renditions of "Happy Birthday" performed in completely different ways at every Chili's across America? This is stifling the creativity of restaurant chain employees everywhere. Someone should sue.