Happy Birthday to Everyone!

October 22, 2015

Today is my birthday, and lots of people have been singing “Happy Birthday” to me today. Good thing that “Happy Birthday” is now in the public domain.

A documentary filmmaker who was making a film about the history of the song received a violation notice and ended up having to pay $1,500.00 for rights to use the song. The filmmaker discovered others who encountered the same situation and began class-action litigation against the purported copyright holder, Warner/Chappell Music. After extensive litigation, a federal court determined that the only part of “Happy Birthday” that was in fact copyrighted was the piano arrangement, not the lyrics. Mildred and Patty Hill, however, sold the copyright to the entire composition to the Clayton Summy Co., which over the years was taken over by Warner/Chappell Music. It’s the reason that when you go to a chain restaurant on your birthday, they sing a customized birthday song that isn’t *quite* “Happy Birthday.”

The story is an interesting history lesson and also a cautionary tale. First, do a bit of due diligence before using any work (i.e., a song, video, written work, etc.) to make sure you are not violating any copyright. Second, anytime you or anyone you know is served with a Copyright Act violation notice, a DMCA takedown notice, a subpoena of personal information or any similar information request, it is crucially important that you seek counsel at once. Feel free to call or email me to discuss if you are served with such a notice or subpoena.

In any case, that’s my birthday advice for you. Happy birthday to me!