Happy Birthday Song Bun Fight

Happy Birthday Song Bun Fight

At the time of writing, there’s a right royal happy birthday song bun fight going on. Yeah. And it’s a ding dong do about who gets to keep the cake.

Yeah, that innocent little happy birthday song is tearing people apart as they mix it with lawyers in Court.

What is this debacle all about you ask? Simply that people are going three rounds over who owns the rights to Happy Birthday to You? Not you. But the song, I mean.

That sweet little ditty is claimed by some to be everyone’s. So we can all sing our heads off karaoke style without having to get permission.

Sounds utterly ridiculous, doesn't it. Then again, when people have good voices it can sound pretty good.

One company are now insisting the Happy Birthday music is and was theirs all along. So it's that age old story: they're going for the money.

In case you haven’t read about this happy birthday song cash grab, it goes like this:

  • 120 years ago, two teachers (sisters Patty and Mildred Hill) from Louisville, Kentucky, published a song “Good Morning to All” as a welcome song for children arriving to school.
  • Over the following 30 years, the song evolved from a greeting for school students into something more personal as, “Good Morning to You” (with the person's name slipped into the third line).
  • After that, nobody knows for sure who changed  “Good Morning to You” into “Happy Birthday to You.” But, it was a slick move because it went diseased. No, that's not right. Err.. oh yeah: viral. It went viral.  
  • By 1924, a songbook edited by a Mr. Robert H. Coleman listed the song, 'Happy Birthday to You' for the first time in print. And from then on it went quadruple double triple platinum. 
  • When the mid-1930s arrived, the song was already popular, it was sung in several Broadway movies (even became famous as the world’s first singing telegram).
  • Now, the rights to Happy Birthday to You are being hotly contested because there could be big bucks behind it. 
  • Warner/Chappel Music Incorporated bought the song's copyright back in the 1980s, letting it collect millions in copyright costs since then.
that innocent little happy birthday song is tearing people apart”

Today, theatres, filmmakers, TV networks, and restaurants are being made to pay everytime someone publicly sings Happy Birthday to You. Not surprisingly, many have adopted their own versions to avoid the significant copyright impost.

Like Happy Birthday to Shoes... Hippy Burpway to Shrews... ah.. And stuff like that (Okay, I made it up. But you get the gist).

A legal battle is now underway after a film production company said “enough of this stuff” and filed a lawsuit, to overturn the copyright protecting this beloved little ditty.

The proposed class action asks a US Federal Court to declare Happy Birthday to You as property in the public domain and that Warner/Chappel Music Inc. needs to reimburse millions in “unlawful” copyright charges it has gathered for copies of the song and public performances.

Technically, licensing fees are owing if the song has been sung by any for profit entity.  That translates into US $5,000 to $30,000 – just for singing Happy Birthday to You without mixing  it to a rumba beat. 

Shocking.

Ultimately the Court will decide how this happy birthday song bun fight will be settled and whether restaurant bands, or TV hosts singing Happy Birthday to You will be able to do so without stumping up big bucks.

Those who dispute the song should even be under copyright, argue there is no evidence that the sisters ever wrote the final lyrics. And even if they did, there are no copyright docs on record to prove it.

Meantime, you and I can go ahead and sing Happy Birthday to You as much as we like, loudly and lustily, providing it's not for profit. Though, I wouldn't recommend singing it to strangers because that got me into a lot of trouble. Still got another 43 hours of community service to finish.

Not right.

Regardless, hits are hits and the Happy Birthday to You song still beats the pants off bloody Frosty the Snowman. Which is as it should.

Because your bog standard Happy Birthday to You words and tune will remain a timeless (that's code for worn out) favourite. No matter who owns the words.

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