Good news everyone. We can now sing “Happy Birthday” free of charge! But who knew we couldn’t before?
Although it’s not common knowledge, it turns out that “Happy Birthday,” the celebratory ditty sung by millions of us on a daily basis, has actually been copyrighted by various music publishing companies for decades. It has been raking in $2 million dollars a year in royalties for its use in TV, film and public performances.
But that has now changed.
Following a 2013-filed lawsuit involving a film production company that was sued by current “Happy Birthday” owners Warner/Chappell Music for using “Happy Birthday” in a documentary about the song itself, a US federal judge just ruled that the ditty is now part of the public domain. That means we can all use it, however we want.
According to the judge, the music publishers only have the rights to a certain piano arrangement of the music, but not the words. This is because the original owners of the song never acquired the rights to the lyrics. Womp womp.
Warner/Chappell Music acquired the copyright for the tune in 1988 for $15 million bucks. At least they cashed in while they could.
You can bet that we’ll be seeing a lot more birthday singing in films, TV and on stage in the very near future.