Copyright and Happy Birthday to You

Photo Credit: Sing Out
Copyright and Happy Birthday to You

The most sung song of all time. Happy birthday. It is sung millions of times a year to millions of people. Pretty much every language has a translation of the song. So you would assume the song is in the public domain, right?


Warner Music actually owns the rights to the Happy Birthday song we all know and love. Filmmaker Jennifer Nelson talked about this in her documentary about the song. And Warner Brothers takes this copyright issue very seriously. They charged Nelson $1,500 just to put it in her movie!

Originally, the melody of the song was another song called “Good Morning to All.” Warner holds the copyright to this song, so therefore they also own the copyright to “Happy Birthday”.

If you haven’t noticed, whenever the wait staff sings happy birthday to someone at a restaurant, it’s never the actual song. It’s always some weird, made up happy birthday rendition they’ve created. Now you know why. If they were to sing the actual song, they would have to pay royalties to Warner!

What do you think about the issue? Should Happy Birthday be allowed to be copyrighted, or should it be public domain? Leave a comment below.

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