Happy Birthday To Us All — Judge Rules Tune Is Public Domain

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Rollo Treadway

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Happy Birthday To Us All — Judge Rules Tune Is Public Domain

PostWed Sep 23, 2015 2:20 am

No more sitcom characters standing around a cake, singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." No more Applebee's servers clapping along to "Happy happy birthday, from Applebee's to you!"

Well, they can if they want, but not because they'd have to pay the copyright holders of the popular "Happy Birthday To You" song. A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled that Warner/Chappell Music's claim to the rights, which earned them an estimated $2 million dollars a year, is not valid.

Warner had been collecting royalties on the song since the 1980s when it bought Birch Tree Group, the successor to Clayton F. Summy Co., which claimed the original copyright.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

"Judge George H. King ruled Tuesday afternoon that a copyright filed by the Summy Co. in 1935 granted only the rights to specific arrangements of the music, not the actual song itself.
"'Because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the Happy Birthday lyrics,' wrote King, 'defendants, as Summy Co.'s purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics.'"
To arrive at his decision, the judge considered a 1922 songbook which features a version of the birthday song called "Good Morning and Birthday Song," written by sisters Mildred and Patty Hill. That iteration of the tune includes the familiar "happy birthday to you" lyrics and is listed as appearing through "special permission" of the Summy Company with no mention of a copyright.

The lawsuit was filed against Warner by two filmmakers making a documentary about the song's origins. The publisher charged $1,500 to use it.


http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/22/442694777/happy-birthday-to-us-all-judge-rules-tune-is-public-domain
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entredeuxguerres

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Re: Happy Birthday To Us All — Judge Rules Tune Is Public Do

PostWed Sep 23, 2015 7:40 am

The ideal sequel to this decision would be suits to recover that usage fee filed by every party who'd paid the $1500...except that the legal costs for doing so would far exceed $1500.
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westegg

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Re: Happy Birthday To Us All — Judge Rules Tune Is Public Do

PostWed Sep 23, 2015 7:48 am

High time this happened!
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Brooksie

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Re: Happy Birthday To Us All — Judge Rules Tune Is Public Do

PostMon Aug 15, 2016 4:26 pm

I was intriguted to hear 'Happy Birthday' sung in Fifth Avenue Girl (1939) - some years after the song was copyrighted, but presumably before they were charging enough to start the tradition of phoney substitute birthday songs.

It would have to be one of the earliest times I ever heard it in a film. Can anyone recall any other early appearances?
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CoffeeDan

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Re: Happy Birthday To Us All — Judge Rules Tune Is Public Do

PostMon May 15, 2017 11:19 pm

Brooksie wrote:I was intrigued to hear 'Happy Birthday' sung in Fifth Avenue Girl (1939) -- some years after the song was copyrighted, but presumably before they were charging enough to start the tradition of phony substitute birthday songs.

It would have to be one of the earliest times I ever heard it in a film. Can anyone recall any other early appearances?


According to the court documents, "Happy Birthday to You" was used in these movies during the early-to-mid '30s:

GIRLS ABOUT TOWN (1931)
BOSKO'S PARTY (1932)
STRANGE INTERLUDE (1932)
BABY TAKE A BOW (1934)
THE OLD HOMESTEAD (1935)
WAY DOWN EAST (1935)

I might also add that, even though the decision runs for 43 pages -- and probably contains much more than the average person would want to know about the song -- it makes for fascinating reading. The plaintiffs really did their homework on the origin of the song and its published variants.
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earlytalkiebuffRob

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Re: Happy Birthday To Us All — Judge Rules Tune Is Public Do

PostTue May 16, 2017 1:03 am

Does the scene in PARDON US (1930) where a classroomful of tough prisoners (plus Stan and Ollie) sing 'Good Morning Dear Teacher' to mortar-boarded Jimmy Finlayson? Admittedly, the tune is a little different...

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