Posted by: chrissypurcell | November 3, 2012

Happy Birthday to Who?

If you learn something new every day, then today I’ve learned that that the song “Happy Birthday to You” has one of the most convoluted copyright histories out there.  Yep, that’s right. The birthday song.

Although Warner Music Group currently owns the copyright – and earns around $2 million per year in usage fees from it – the song may actually date back to the year 1900 as a schoolhouse sing-along (check out this intriguing article from Slate examining this rabbit-hole of a song). Nonetheless, Warner Music cashes in every time a movie or tv show wants to use the song, and that’s why so many restaurant chains have their own (obnoxious) variation on a birthday song – they can’t afford the real thing.

This all begs the question – when is copyright a necessary protector and when is it a poor sport? Has copyright policy morphed into a profit-driven hot bed of litigation, or is it a viable source of power for the average Joe trying to protect his work?

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