“Happy Birthday” Can Now Be Sung Freely On TV And In Film

The song “Happy Birthday to You,” long avoided with creative alternatives by filmmakers and restaurant employees alike, is now open for public use. Music publishing giant Warner Chappell has held for decades that they own the rights to maybe the most commonly-sung song in America, after buying Birch Tree Group, which had previously bought Clayton F. Summy Co., which originally published the song in a book titled “Song Stories for the Kindergarten,” composed by sisters Patty Smith Hill and Mildred J. Hill.

Judge George J. King ruled this week, though, that Summy Co. never legally obtained the rights to the song from the Hills. Therefore, every single royalty that has ever been paid to Summy Co., Birch Tree, and Warner Chappell for use of the song in a profit-making enterprise has been falsely collected. The plaintiffs in the case are now looking to file a class action lawsuit against Warner Chappell to recoup those royalties.

That doesn’t mean that “Happy Birthday to You” is in the public domain, though. Rather, we just don’t know who would validly own the copyright, with the Hills long dead. For now, that means that the song is free for public use, meaning that it can be sung freely on television, in movies, and, of course, at Applebee’s. The landscape of our public and filmic celebrations will be forever changed. I say that’s an occasion for cake!

[Los Angeles Times]

Image via Shutterstock

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