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Good Morning to You

A federal judge in Los Angeles, Calif., has ruled that Warner/Chappell, the publishing arm of Warner Music, did not actually have the right to enforce a copyright on a song it’s been collecting royalties on since 1988. The tune was originally written in 1893, when sisters Patty and Mildred Hill wrote a song titled “Good Morning to All” for their kindergarten students. They assigned the copyright to their publisher, Clayton F. Summy Co., in 1935 in exchange for a portion of the sales. Eventually the words to “Happy Birthday to You” were published with the original tune, and Warner/Chappell ended up with the rights. Technically, any public singing of the song in a for-profit enterprise required payment of royalties. Two of the plaintiffs in the suit had paid $1,500 and $3,000 for the rights to perform the song, and a filmmaker had paid $5,000 for a 9-second rendition of the song. The judge ruled that the sisters had never obtained the rights to “Happy Birthday”, and therefore the company did not have the rights to the song, either. “‘Happy Birthday’ is finally free after 80 years,” attorney Randall Newman, said. (MS/Los Angeles Times) ...Although after all these years, you’ll need permission from the fire marshal to light the candles.
Original Publication Date: 27 September 2015
This story is in True’s book collections, in Volume 22.

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