Hip Hip Hooray! Anyone can sing Happy Birthday!
A US federal judge has ruled that Happy Birthday To You, the most recognized song in the English language, is not protected by a valid copyright. This is great news for anyone who wants to use the song in a movie, advertisement, or other commercial production.
The publishing company Warner/Chappell has been collecting millions of dollars in royalties for use of the Happy Birthday song since 1988. This is the year Warner took over a publishing company that once claimed to have the copyright for Good Morning To You, a kindergarten song with the same tune as Happy Birthday. Good Morning To You, which has been out of copyright for years, was written by an American teacher named Patti Hill and her piano-playing sister Mildred. The judge ruled that no valid copyright for the combination of the sisters’ adapted lyrics (Happy Birthday To You) and tune exists.
This new ruling suggests that Warner/Chappell not only has no valid copyright, but that it may also have to pay back millions of dollars in royalties that it has collected over the years. Warner/Chappell will have a chance to appeal.
Some legal experts warn that this ruling doesn’t officially put the Happy Birthday song into the public domain. A valid copyright holder other than Warner/Chappel could still come forward.