The twisted history of the Happy Birthday song—and the copyright shenanigans that keep it profitable

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Pro tip: replace the phrase “good morning” with “happy birthday” in other good morning songs, then you can claim it’s parodic fair use!

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I’ve always held hope that the makers of Futurama will release their parodic-soundalike of Happy Birthday, “What day is today?” into the public domain. Then we could all just use that one instead.

What day is today?
It’s Leela’s birthday!
What a day for a birthday,
Now let’s all eat some cake.




Thanks for the informative and interesting article, giving closure to this ongoing action. The history of the Hill sisters raises a question… did Meredith Wilson name the “music teacher” in The Music Man Harald Hill after the musicologist or teacher? An outspoken persuader (well, confidence artist), Hill talks of social issues and trends, and the influence of music. Probably just a coincidence, but good fodder for a rumor. :wink:



Ahh… so the Hill Sisters used the Think System to help the kindergartners learn music!

I agree, this was a great overview of the situation. Happy birthday to us all!

may I also recommend this history of the authorship of “Who Let the Dogs Out”:

Predictions: The strategy of exhaustion can go on for another few decades.

Expect wrangling now about the chain of custody of the pre-1923 editions. The burden will be on the challengers of the copyright to prove that those editions are not later forgeries nor altered in any way. It’ll be fun to see librarians cross-examined about whether their collections have been locked in vaults with secure inventory control for the last 92 years.

And then it will turn out to be that all the copyright licenses were simple quitclaims. Given the duration of the controversy - I’m sure I remember hearing about it forty years ago - I’d be astonished if the licenses aren’t simple agreements not to sue and specifically disclaim asserting that the copyright is valid. So, “no, we don’t own the copyright. We didn’t claim we did. We just got money because we’re big and scary and it’s entirely reasonable that everyone on the planet might want to pay us to keep our lawyers off them.”

And on top of that, whatever the court finds will be valid with respect to only the parties in this suit. "Warner asserted improperly that the copyright was valid. “We do not reach a decision on the validity of the copyright, but find that the specific assertion was improper because…” leaving the door open to the next nuisance suit.


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