Tag Archives: happy birthday

Happy Birthday Finally Free

Yesterday US District Judge George H. King ruled the world’s most popular English-language song is free from copyright. The latest challenge to Warner/Chappell’s hold on the tune, worth around $2 million a year, came from a filmmaker. The opinion contends that the ruling establishes that the rights were never properly transferred. The “Happy Birthday” song dates to the late 19th century work by teacher Patty Smith Hill and her sister Mildred.

The ruling reads in part: “Defendants ask us to find the Hill sisters eventually gave Summy Co. the rights in the lyrics to exploit and protect, but this assertion has no support in the record. The Hill sisters gave Summy Co. the rights to the melody, and the rights to the piano arrangements based on the melody, but never any rights to the lyrics.

‘Happy Birthday’ Still Not Free

Some thought that Wednesday would bring a close to the battle over whether Warner/Chappell would retain the rights to “Happy Birthday.” Filmmakers working on a documentary about the song discovered new evidence that may prove that the song should be in the public domain. The “smoking gun” is in the form of a children’s book of songs from Warner/Chappell’s own digital library. The blurry 1927 edition of The Everyday Song Book contained the lyrics without a copyright notice and the copyright was not filed until 1935. The filmmakers say that the original composers of the song, Patty Smith Hill and Mildred Hill, had surrendered the song to the public.

Though July 29 hearing took a comprehensive look at ownership of the song, the judge hadn’t had time to review the new evidence and the final decision was postponed once again. Ownership of the tune brings in about $2 million to Warner/Chappell each year. If able to prove the tune was dedicated to the public years before the copyright registration, the filmmakers and others will no longer have to pay to use the song.