LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The song that’s been integral to billions of birthday parties may soon be free.
You may not know this but “Happy Birthday to You” is not free for public use.
A branch of Warner Music Group has exclusive rights to the melody, so copyright law prevented movies and TV shows – or waiters at restaurants for that matter – from using the tune without paying royalties.
But that all may change at a court hearing slated for Wednesday.
The Good Morning to You Productions Corp. is suing Warner/Chappell Music Inc. to put the song in the public domain, according to the court documents published in a Los Angeles Times report. The film company says they had to pay Warner $1,500 for a license to use the song while making a documentary about the melody.
The rights to the ditty, a spin-off of “Good Morning to All,” written in 1893 by sisters Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill, was previously owned by the Clayton F. Summy Company. Warner says they bought the rights when they acquired Birch Tree Group, “the successor” to the Summy company, the Times reports.
A lawyer for the plaintiff said Patty Smith Hill, a Kindergarten teacher, wrote the song with her sister fpr her class but she never intended to make a profit on it.
“She was protective of the work she did with her sister,” said attorney Mark Rifkin, , the original work, ‘Good Morning to All,” but the work she later composed, ‘Happy Birthday, to You,’ she was happy to have everybody enjoy it. And that is really the story of this case.”
Lawyers for Warner/Chappell Music declined an on camera interview with CBS2’s Randy Paige.
But in court Wednesday, he said a lawyer argued that the two songs were actually the same song — just sung in two different ways. And the lawyer argued that Warner had the right to charge royalties if the birthday song is performed in public.