Before September 22, 2015 the use of Happy Birthday to You Song was subjected to copyright with a lucrative $2 million annual license, well not literally but that should have been the case. Imagine you paying an annual fee of $2 million to sing the most popular song for your loved ones birthday.
But thanks to U.S. District Court Judge George H. King who ruled that the copyright to the lyrics of the popular song “Happy Birthday to You” is no longer valid, ending a lucrative $2-million annual licensing business and opens the door to wider public use of the song.
The Strange Past to the Happy Birthday to You Song
- Who wrote the Happy Birthday to You Song?
In 1893, Sisters Mildred Hill and Patty Hill composed “Good Morning to All” to sing to their pupils everyday,
Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all
this original melody was later modified to create “Happy Birthday to you” in 1911, no one actually knowing who re-penned it from the original and changed the lyrics to fit Birthday in it.
- How did it become so popular?
In 1924, the Birthday lyrics appears in Print, published for the first time and eventually in 1931, the songs creeps in films and on radio, entirely without any type of royalty.
After more appearances in the public domain the third Hill sister, Jessica, takes a stand and secures the copyright of Happy Birthday, thanks to its similarities to Good Morning to all in 1934.
In 1935, party song makes profit when published by Clayton F. Summy Company. The Hills have rights over the song if it is sung for profit until 1991 (this is later extended until 2030).
Marilyn Monroe tweaks the lyrics to sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” for President John F. Kennedy at a celebration of his forty-fifth birthday. It has since become one of the most famous renditions of the song.
- Warner Owns Happy Birthday to you songIn 1988, Warner Music become owners of the song and benefit from its reported $2 million annual royalties. The Hill Foundation, set up in the sisters’ honour, has collected half of all royalties since 1893, with some going to their nephew Archibald, after Patty’s death in 1946.In 2010, Robert Brauneis publishes his paper, ‘Copyright and the World’s Most Popular Song’, bringing the Hills’ ownership of the melody into dispute. Eventually taking the song to the court in 2013 when Filmmaker Jennifer Nelson files a lawsuit against Warner Music after they charged her $1500 to make a film about the song and include a clip of it.
Finally in 2015, U.S. District Court Judge George H. King who ruled that the copyright to the lyrics of the popular song “Happy Birthday to You” is no longer valid, ending a lucrative $2-million annual licensing business and opens the door to wider public use of the song.
Revenue made so far,
As reported in Robert Brauneis’ history of “Happy Birthday,” using numbers from Jessica Hill’s will, and revenue statements