Blow out the candles and put away the wallet. Anyone -- including media personalities, characters in movies and TV, and the public at large -- can now sing "Happy Birthday to You" without worrying about paying royalties. The popular ditty, which is believed to have originated in the late 19th century as a tune for kindergarteners -- then known as "Good Morning to All" -- has had a long history of legal troubles, with copyright infringement suits popping up in the news on a fairly regular basis. But in 2016, a U.S. district judge determined that "Happy Birthday" has been in the public domain since 1988, when the company that held the rights to it was sold to Warner/Chappell Music. The judge said that the new firm had not automatically obtained the copyright title to the song, and its claim to hold the rights until 2030 was null and void. As part of that decision, Warner/Chappell agreed to pay back a total of $14 million USD to those who had paid licensing fees to use the tune.
Something to sing about:
- Guinness World Records notes that "Happy Birthday to You" is one of the most popular songs in the English language.
- Copyright-related worries over "Happy Birthday to You" prompted many restaurants, including Red Lobster and TGI Friday's, to write their own songs for celebrating patrons' birthdays.
- American sisters Mildred and Patty Hill, who co-wrote "Good Morning to All," were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1996.