‘Happy Birthday To You’ Now In the Public Domain (Sort of)
For as long as I can remember, whenever we celebrated a birthday, we inevitably would gather around the birthday boy or girl and sing “Happy Birthday To You.” But now that the copyright is in question, new evidence brought to light that the song belonged in the public domain. Happy Birthday may very well be the oldest – and most widely recognizable – orphan work of all time. In 2013, a documentary filmmaker challenged the copyright on the world’s most popular song, calling Warner/Chappell Music’s claim to copyright royalties bogus. The filmmakers’ claim was no small declaration. By 1996, Warner/Chappell, who since 1988 has purported to own the rights to the song, was collecting over $2 million per year in licensing fees. The basis of Warner/Chappell’s claim is a copyright registration from 1935, made by the Summy Company, Warner/Chappell’s predecessor in interest.