The next time you get the bright idea to film your family party singing “Happy Birthday” and use it in a movie, be prepared to pay up. Because although you might think it’s the sort of thing that’s in the public domain, someone actually owns it. Unless, that is, a movie company gets its way and wins the right to make it free for you and me.
See, it turns out that Warner/Chappell Music Inc., the publishing arm of Warmer Music Group, owns the rights to the song. The plaintiff in a new lawsuit, Good Morning to You Productions Corp., is suing Warner so it can include the song in its documentary about the ditty, reports the Los Angeles Times.
That company claims that it should belong in the public domain, instead of people having to pay $1,500 for a license to use it. Warner has the power here, with all rights over the reproduction, distribution and public performances of “Happy Birthday.”
In a 26-page court document, the history of the song is laid out, going back 120 years. It started as “Good Morning to All,” apparently, penned by two sisters in 1893.
It went: “Good morning to you / Good morning to you / Good morning dear children / Good morning to all.” Eventually it morphed into the song warbled over birthday cakes around the world.
The movie company wants to return “millions of dollars” in licensing fees from Warner to all the people and groups who’ve had to pay up to use it.
Until now I never connected the ditty in Dora’s Dunking Doughnuts (with a cast including Shirley Temple) to Happy Birthday. Perhaps it’s time to just switch to singing Good Morning on people’s birthdays?
Start the below at around 3:10 for a blast from the past c. 1936:
Lawsuit seeks to put ‘Happy Birthday’ in public domain [Los Angeles Times]