Is The Happy Birthday Song Copyrighted?

Bet you didn’t know that the “Happy Birthday” song might be copyrighted. Or at least it was, and there’s a lawsuit out to reinforce the copyright if possible. It was once copyrighted by Warner Music Group, and if the copyright hasn’t lapsed, it will maintain that copyright.

It all began approximately 122 years ago when sisters Mildred and Patty Hill, popular progressive thinkers of the 19th century, wrote a song. It was originally titled “Good Morning To All,” and it was meant to be a greeting song sung in schools. It had two main verses. The first was supposed to be sung by the children.

“Good morning to you, Good morning to you, Good morning dear teacher, Good morning to you.”

The second was meant to be sung by the teacher.

“Good morning to you, Good morning to you, Good morning dear children, Good morning to you.”

Then, there was an optional verse for very special occasions, and it’s the same happy birthday song we all know and love today.

“Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear *………….., Happy birthday to you.”

The final verse took off immediately, and it’s now the verse that everyone remembers. It’s sung thousands of times a day.

The copyright of the tune and lyrics was never put into question until 2013, when Jennifer Nelson began working on a documentary of the song’s history. She sought the help of the court to determine if there was any copyright associated to the song, and if the current owners, Warner/Chappell, had ever received legal rights to the song.

Just before the court was about to rule the song a free-for-all, a final piece of evidence emerged in the form of an ancient book called The Everyday Song Book, which was produced by a piano company called The Cable Company. Within the pages of this dusty book laid the Hills’s version of the happy birthday song, entitled “Good Morning and Birthday Song.”

In the end, the court is still deciding if Warner Music still holds the copyright for the song. If they are officially granted the copyright, it doesn’t mean that no one can sing the song without written permission, but it does mean that when used in a film or production setting, the user would need to obtain the proper permissions.

The court is expected to make its final decision on whether or not the “Happy Birthday” song is copyrighted in September.

[Image via Shutterstock]