After 80 years, Happy Birthday song is finally in the public domain

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…and thus the collectively shared nightmare of alternative “Happy Birthday” songs comes to a quiet end.


So, does this mean that everyone who caved into the extortion for playing the song can sue for their money back? I’d love to see those assholes get bankrupted for what they’ve done to an important piece of America’s cultural heritage for decades.


It may not be in the public domain; the judge didn’t rule on it. But if it’s not, there’s nobody left to enforce rights ownership. The Hill sisters created a foundation of sorts which was dissolved. There are no valid heirs, either. Thus, if there’s a copyright there’s nobody who can properly claim it.


I hate it when y’all give credence to the system’s bullshit. It Always WAS in the public domain!


And more to the point: do the poor bastards that Warner-Chappell shook down over the last 8 decades constitute a legal class?


Good morning, dear children…

As some have asked above, I wonder what this means for those that have paid large sums of money to Warner. Honestly I don’t think they’ll be able to sue, but I’d be interested to see what’ll happen next

unfortunately, that arrangement was “many voices, singing in different keys, and having their voices give out on on the high notes” so we’re all still in big trouble…

but seriously, this is great, as this was a particularly egregious example of stupid greed, but in a larger sense, shouldn’t there be something like a national treasure clause in copyright that hastens entry into the public domain when a work becomes woven into the cultural fabric to the point that you can’t accurately portray a generic experience of life without its inclusion, like, for example, by being the song sung at every child’s birthday party?

The majority of works that have been extended copyrights that should’ve been in the public domain by now would be considered national treasures. Unfortunately if the government wrestled things into the public domain many corporations would have a meltdown because anyone could be next. Sadly copyright is in need of reform ASAP, there’s so much bullshit going on with many old works.

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It was via BoingBoing that I first learned about the Happy Birthday copyright problem 15 or so years ago. It was emblematic of the larger problem with overly long copyrights.

So the public has won this battle! Hooray! Now, what are we going to do about US copyright extensions that are coming up for renewal next year?

I’m signing it right now, free of charge.

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Well, they can always get into the pharmaceutical industry. :frowning:

Of course XKCD is on it, in timely fashion:


Unfortunately, most of the places reporting this story get it wrong. The court didn’t rule Happy Birthday is in the public domain. (Well, the music is, but not the lyrics.)

The court ruled that it’s unclear who wrote the lyrics (and called that a “triable issue”—that is to say, if someone stepped forward claiming they (inherited the rights from the person who) did it, there would have to be a trial to determine the veracity of their claim), but the people Warner claimed write the lyrics, and licensed the lyrics to them, didn’t.

It’s a small difference, but an important one. People who use “Happy Birthday” (like that xkcd strip just above) could still end up on the hook to someone, if it can be proved who did write the lyrics and they did so after 1923. And as much money as involved, you never know. Someone('s heir) might be willing to step forward to take a crack at it now that (or once) Warner’s legal team is out of the way.

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Like this?

I kid, I kid…

They call UAVs “drones”, too. This is how Boing do.

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