Happy Birthday! You No Longer Have to Pay to Sing “Happy Birthday”

Have you ever wondered why when you went to a chain restaurant and the servers gathered around a table to sing to someone celebrating a birthday, they’d always sing some weird song, and not the traditional “Happy Birthday to You” we all know and love? Because that would have been a public performance, and the resturant would have had to pay royalties.

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At least, that’s the way it was until yesterday.

Yes, for something like 80 years, a division of Warner Entertainment has been earning up to $2 million dollars a year in royalties on the “Happy Birthday” song, demanding payment every time it was used in a movie, TV show, or other commercial situation (you were safe singing it at your kids’ party… unless you put it on YouTube). But their claim to the copyright on the song was very troublesome, and after years of legal wrangling, the song has been finally declared part of the public domain.

So thank goodness: now we can all take our kids for a birthday meal at TGI Friday’s, and know we’ll get to sing the proper birthday song without fear of legal action from a music publisher. Pass the hot wings!

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Ken Denmead

Ken is a husband and father from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he works as civil engineer. He became the Publisher of GeekDad in 2007, and the owner in 2010. He also wrote the NYT bestselling GeekDad series of project books for parents and kids to share.

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