I’m not usually a fan of being sang to in public but I’ll accept the happiness my wife gets from telling the server so I could be sang Happy Birthday to. What I have always heard though is that it’s illegal to sing happy birthday but I never have gotten confirmation from people. So I went digging myself and this is what I have found out!
No, in 2015 in the song Happy Birthday became public domain. This is in large because of the lawsuit that was filed: Good Morning to You Productions Inc. v. Warner/Chappell Music. The lawsuit was filed in 2013 by a filmmaker who is making a documentary about the song’s history and was being asked to pay Warner/Chappell $1,500 every time he used the song. So yes it is legal to sing happy birthday, although many people may not realize that this is the case!
The great thing is I didn’t even know that answer before diving head first into this topic. Continue reading if you want to know a little more about the case.
Who Had The Rights To Happy Birthday?
Before entering public domain, the song happy birthday was owned by Warner/Chappell Music Inc. who is one of the world’s largest music publishers. The copyright to the song is believed to have been transferred from another publisher, Birchtree Ltd., only in 1988 when Warner/Chappell bought Birchtree for an undisclosed amount.
How Did Happy Birthday Enter Public Domain?
In 2013, filmmaker Jennifer Nelson sued Warner/Chappell for copyright infringement. She is making a documentary about the song and had to pay $1,500 every time she wanted to use it in her film. This is because Warner Bros claimed that they owned the rights to Happy Birthday and is a major source of income for their company.
After a long legal battle, in 2015 a federal judge ruled that Warner/Chappell did not hold the copyright to Happy Birthday and is now in public domain. This is because it is believed that the song was written by schoolteacher Patty Hill back in 1893 and another teacher, Mildred J. Hill, is believed to have added the lyrics in 1935. Since then, nobody had made a claim for ownership of the song until Warner/Chappell came along and purchased Birchtree Ltd., which is when they allegedly obtained the copyright to Happy Birthday.
What Exactly Is Public Domain?
Public domain is a legal term that is used to describe any piece of intellectual property that is not protected by copyright. This means that anyone is allowed to use and adapt the work however they see fit, as long as it is not for commercial purposes.
What Were The Fines For Using Happy Birthday Without Permission?
When Warner/Chappell claimed that they owned the copyright to Happy Birthday, they began charging a licensing fee of $1,500 when it is used in any film or TV production, even if it is not commercially distributed. This was the case for filmmaker Jennifer Nelson and many other smaller productions who had to pay these fees until 2015 when the copyright is finally in public domain.
While the song is now free to be used by anyone, it is important to note that Warner/Chappell is still able to collect royalties from past licenses up until this time. However, as of 2016, many people are celebrating the return of Happy Birthday and may choose to take advantage of this freedom to sing it wherever they please!
Whether you choose to sing Happy Birthday is up to you, but it is important to note that the song is now in public domain. This is thanks to a long legal battle and ruling by a federal judge in 2015, but Warner/Chappell is still able to collect royalties for past licenses until this time. So if you do want to sing Happy Birthday, you are free to do so without any legal repercussions! However, it is important to note that Warner/Chappell is still able to collect royalties from past licenses up until this time. So while the song is now free to be used by anyone, you may want to consider singing a different birthday song just in case.