Did you know that the “Happy Birthday” song, formally known as “Happy Birthday to You”, is the most recognized song in the english language? Then why is it that your favorite restaurant has decided to steer away from the highly popular song and create their own celebratory ditty? Its because the restaurant does not want to pay royalties. Yes, the “Happy Birthday” song is copyrighted. The song comes from the tune “Good Morning to All”, written by two sisters, Patty and Mildred J. Hill in 1893. Their “Good Morning to You” song became so popular with Patty’s kindergarten class that, myth has it, the sisters began singing it at their students birthdays changing the lyrics to “Happy Birthday”. According to Wikipedia, the following is the copyright history and terms:
In 1935, “Happy Birthday to You” was copyrighted as a work for hire by Preston Ware Orem for the Summy Company, the publisher of “Good Morning to All”. A new company, Birch Tree Group Limited, was formed to protect and enforce the song’s copyright. In 1998, the rights to “Happy Birthday to You” and its assets were sold to The Time-Warner Corporation. In March 2004, Warner Music Group was sold to a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. The company continues to insist that one cannot sing the “Happy Birthday to You” lyrics for profit without paying royalties: in 2008, Warner collected about $5000 per day ($2 million per year) in royalties for the song., pp. 4,68 This includes use in film, television, radio, anywhere open to the public, or even among a group where a substantial number of those in attendance are not family or friends of whoever is performing the song. For this reason, most restaurants or other public party venues will not allow their employees to perform the song in public, instead opting for other original songs or cheers in honor of the birthday celebrant.
In many countries, including the United States, copyright lasts the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. In this case, since it was a work for hire, the standard is not 70 years post death of the last surviving author, but 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever comes first. Assuming, the song still enjoys U.S. copyright protection, and assuming its first publication date was 1935, the copyright would be valid until 2030.