g by Apollo 9 astronauts on March 8, 1969? In fact, it was also featured in the world’s first singing telegram, and the New York Times noted in a June 13 story that it is “widely credited for being the most performed song in the world.”
However, you might also notice that many restaurants have their servers sing alternative birthday songs to guests. That is because the song has been protected by copyright law for more than a century ever since sisters Mildred Hill and Patty Smith Hill wrote a song with the same melody entitled “Good Morning to All” in the late 1800s. According to the Times, Warner Music Group’s publishing arm, Warner/Chappell, paid $25 million in 1988 to acquire Birchtree Ltd., a small company whose musical holdings included the birthday song. Robert Brauneis, a professor at the George Washington University Law School and the author of a 68-page article titled “Copyright and the World’s Most Popular Song,” told ABC News in 2008 that “Happy Birthday to You” generates approximately $2 million in royalties every year.
The Times reported that a recent lawsuit filed by filmmaker Jennifer Nelson is seeking to have the court declare the song to “be in the public domain, and to block a music company from claiming it owns the copyright to the song and charging licensing fees for its use.” The lawsuit is seeking class-action status on behalf of all others who have paid licensing fees for the song since 2009. Brauneis told the Times that “it is doubtful that ‘Happy Birthday to You’ … is really still under copyright” and a successful legal challenge “might be a model for challenges to other songs.”
“I believe this song is in the public domain and therefore it is not owned by anyone,” Brauneis told the Times.
These types of issues are major legal concerns for many creative professionals, and you can find additional information about copyright infringement by visiting our website. Los Angeles business litigation attorney Robert G. Klein represents clients in these areas of business law, and you can use the form located on this page or contact our firm at (323) 653-3900 to have our Los Angeles copyright infringement attorney review your case.
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