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Huzzah! "Happy Birthday" is finally in the public domain!

GoodMorningToAll 1893 song
The original version of the song, which actually had different words.
 In a different publication of the song, the lyrics to "Happy Birthday" were included as optional.

  One thing that's always irked me about having a birthday and being at a restaurant is how they never sing you the real version of happy birthday! It's always some cheesy sounding jazzy song, and while they're singing it, you and everyone else sits there, wishing they were singing the real version so you could sing along.

  It seemed pointless, but I never knew the real reason behind it until about a year ago. It's simple- the lyrics to Happy Birthday, until June 28th, 2016, were under copyright.

  Most people didn't even know this, that the song everyone sings at birthdays, a nationwide symbol of cakes, candles, and making wishes, was copyrighted. But it was. And so, restaurants couldn't sing it, because, while it was acceptable for small groups of family and friends to do so, anything else was a violation of said company's copyright and therefore said company could fine them, and charge royalties. Basically, it cost anyone else money anytime they wanted to preform Happy Birthday.

  But recently not too long ago, a suit was finished up between the holder of the copyright (Warner/Chappell, a music publishing company) and Jennifer Nelson (A documentary filmmaker who wanted to make a film about the song). Apccording to Wikipedia, the Summy Co. (The original publisher), never correctly copyrighted the song, and though copyrights were made on a specific piano arrangement in 1935, they did not include the original lyrics and music. However, Summy Co. assumed they did, and in 1988, when Summy Co. (Now Birch Tree Group Ltd.) was purchased by Warner/Chappell Music, the supposed rights to the music went with it. By 2008, Warner/Chappell was collecting $5000 a day in royalties from the song, and was making $2 million a year. In June of 2013, Jennifer Nelson filed a lawsuit against them, after having payed $1500 to secure the rights for her documentary film about the song. Based off some research done by law professor Robert Brauneis, her side presented evidence that the copyright claims made by Warner/Chappell were invalid. The Judge ruled that they did not have rights to the music or lyrics, but nobody else did. By default, it would fall into the public domain. But it was in a grey area, where nobody could really do anything with it and be sure it was legal. A little later, Warner/Chappell agreed to pay $14 million to previous licensees of the song, dating back to 1949.

  Finally, on June 28th, 2016, a final hearing was held to decide if the song was in the public domain. It was decided that the song, both lyrics and music, are indeed in the public domain. Hurrah!

  You can find Jennifer Nelson's documentary about the lawsuit and the story behind it here.


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