“Happy Birthday to You”. Copyright.
It would surprise very few people that “Happy Birthday to You” is one of the best-known songs in the world, sung and played millions of times by millions of people. People sing it in their homes. They sing it in restaurants and at work. Professional bands play the song, and TV shows and movies have used it countless times.
Although it seems that everyone knows the song, most people probably don’t know that this simple song has for years been the property of a music publisher, Warner/Chappell Music Inc., which has held the copyright for this song for decades, making millions of dollars in licensing and usage fees.
The copyright holder of this iconic song was involved in a lawsuit with several plaintiffs which included musicians and filmmakers who claimed that the publisher had no right to the copyright. The trial, which was set to kick off next week in Los Angeles, would have decided, once-and-for-all, if the song is “in the public domain.” Arguments over refunding the millions of dollars in licensing fees collected by the publisher were also on the trial agenda.
But this trial will never come to pass.
Earlier this week U.S. District Judge George H. King vacated the trial after all the parties involved reached a settlement. Attorneys for both sides have yet to release the terms of the settlement and are waiting for the Judge’s approval. Taking into account past rulings along with the recent settlement, legal experts believe that the iconic lyrics will now become part of the public domain.
Patti Smith Hill. “Good Morning to All.”
The history of the song and who actually wrote it and when are murky to say the least. Part of the lyrics first appeared in 1901, but the full lyrics did not appear in print until 1911. The original music written in 1893 by kindergarten teacher Patti Smith Hill and her sister Mildred J. Hill had different lyrics and was called “Good Morning to All.”
The rights to the sisters’ song was granted to publisher Clayton F. Summy, and were published in a book titled “Song Stories for the Kindergarten.” It wasn’t until nearly 30-years later in 1930 when Patti Smith Hill claimed that she wrote the lyrics to “Happy Birthday to You” back in 1901 when she co-wrote “Good Morning to All.”
In September, a judge ruled that the original publisher, Clayton F. Summy Co. only had the copyright to the piano arrangements of the songs melody and not the lyrics. The rights eventually wound up with Warner/Chappell Music Inc.
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