Have you ever noticed that when it’s your birthday and your really good friends take you to Chevy’s, Chilli’s or any other chain with a bunch of crazy crap on the walls that they never sing the correct birthday song? It’s always some crummy version you’ve never heard of that involves humiliating clapping.
The reason is the Happy Birthday song that most people expect to hear is currently copyrighted by Time Warner until at least the year 2030.
Written by two sister from Kentucky, Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill, the catchy tune was originally called Good Morning To You and was first published in 1893 in the songbook Stories for the Kindergarten.
It remains a mystery who the clever soul was that adopted the Happy Birthday lyrics to the melody. In 1935 Jessica Hill collaborated with the Clayton F. Summy Publishing Company to copyright the song after demonstrating the similarities between Happy Birthday and Good Morning to You.
Through a series of purchases the song eventually wound up in Time Warner’s catalog. It’s reported that Happy Birthday generates 2 million dollars annually in royalty fees.
According to this Snopes article on the subject it is technically legal to sing it within the confines of you humble abode. However any public performances, including those in a restaurant, require obtaining permission from the copyright holder.