The Happy Birthday Song Is Finally Free

Did you know that until recently, the Happy Birthday Song was still collecting royalty fees? The little diddy we hear on someone’s special day has been quite the cash hog since it was written over a century ago.

In 1988 Warner/Chappell Music purchased the copyright to the Happy Birthday song and since then has made about $2 million a year in royalties. Well those days are now over.

Last week a federal judge in Los Angeles declared the copyright invalid. This essentially opens up the flood gates as previously anytime the song was sung a fee had to be paid to Warner/Chappell.

The melody synonymous with celebration was composed in the early 1890s by the Hill Sisters and originally titled “Good Morning.”  The happy birthday lyrics were added later and have been a topic of contention every since. Legal battles followed the song as the rights changed hands several times over the years.

A producer working on a documentary about the song is the one who presented evidence that ultimately convinced U.S. District Court Judge George H. King that the current copyright was never valid. Oops.

Now not only will Warner/Chappell music no longer collect money from the song, they may have to start issuing refunds. They have obviously filed an appeal, so only time will tell what happens.

Remember Napster? Yeah, music licensing has been a big issue for years. Some critics believe this latest ruling could put the spotlight back on it. The Fair Play, Fair Pay Act of 2015 is actually sitting in a House subcommittee currently (and has been since May). It would require broadcast radio stations to pay license fees to performers when their songs are played on the air.

And just for good measure…

“Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday to you.

Happy Birthday dear reader,

Happy Birthday to you!”

What are your thoughts on music licensing?