There is an interesting case in the news – according the a lawsuit, the infamous song dates back to 1893 – in which case the copyright would have expired in 1921.  However Warner/Chappell, based in Los Angeles, claims exclusive copyright to “Happy Birthday to You,”  Warner/Chappell says they own the exclusive copyright to the melody, song and lyrics – the plaintiff says it’s on the piano melody.

Good Morning To You Productions Corp., which is working on a film tentatively titled “Happy Birthday,” argues in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the song should be “dedicated to public use and in the public domain.” The company is seeking monetary damages and restitution of more than US$5 million in licensing fees collected by Warner/Chappell Music Inc. from thousands of people and groups who’ve paid it licensing fees.

You can read more about this story on Forbes.com >> http://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2013/06/14/class-action-suit-aims-to-strip-warner-of-happy-birthday-copyright/

Here is another story – this one from the UK >> http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2342034/Happy-lawsuit-Filmmaker-takes-music-giant-court-ownership-Happy-Birthday-song.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

Songwriters: The simple four-line ditty was written in 1893 by Mildred and Patty Hill, two sisters from Louisville, Kentucky, and it was intended as a musical greeting performed in school by teachers

Is this really a copyright issue or a trademark issue or both?  I’m not sure how it works with music but for artists, the word part of art doesn’t receive protection under copyright registration, just the art or the way the words are depicted.  To truly protect original word combinations or usage – you have to register trademarks.  (At least that is what this non-lawyer artist understands from years of working in this business…)

I’d love an attorney to chime in if you have any info, opinions or clarification to offer… in the meantime, some interesting food for thought.  Does this mean we could be sued for putting “Happy Birthday to You” on a card or plate?  Or does the copyright – if it is still in effect – apply to the song in its entirety?  I don’t think I’ll ever sing at a party again without wondering how this all pans out!

Here’s to your creative success!

– Tara Reed