Happy Birthday to You: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Happy Birthday to You", also known more simply as "Happy Birthday", is a song that is traditionally sung to celebrate the anniversary of a person's birth. According to the 1998 Guinness Book of World Records, "Happy Birthday to You" is the most recognized song in the English language, followed by "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and "Auld Lang Syne".[1] The song's base lyrics have been translated into at least 18 languages.[2], p. 17

The melody of "Happy Birthday to You" comes from the song "Good Morning to All", which was written and composed by American sisters Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill in 1893.[3] They were both kindergarten school teachers in Louisville, Kentucky, developing various teaching methods at what is now the Little Loomhouse.[2][4], pp. 4–15 The sisters created "Good Morning to All" as a song that would be easy to sing by young children.[2], p. 14 The combination of melody and lyrics in "Happy Birthday to You" first appeared in print in 1912, and probably existed even earlier.[2], pp. 31–32 None of these early appearances included credits or copyright notices. The Summy Company registered for copyright in 1935, crediting authors Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman. In 1990, Warner Chappell purchased the company owning the copyright for U.S. $15 million, with the value of "Happy Birthday" estimated at U.S. $5 million.[5] Based on the 1935 copyright registration, Warner claims that U.S. copyright will not expire until 2030, and that unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal unless royalties are paid to it. In one specific instance in February 2010, these royalties were said[6] to amount to $700.

In European Union (EU) countries the copyright in the song will expire December 31, 2016.[7]

The actual U.S. copyright status of "Happy Birthday to You" began to draw more attention with the passage of the Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998. When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Act in Eldred v. Ashcroft in 2003, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer specifically mentioned "Happy Birthday to You" in his dissenting opinion.[8] An American law professor who heavily researched the song has expressed strong doubts that it is still under copyright.[2]



"Good Morning to All"

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.

(Lyrics by Patty Smith Hill.[9])

"Happy Birthday to You"

Structurally, the song consists of four lines, three of which are identical. The three identical lines are also the song's title. The other line is "Happy birthday, dear name", where name is the name of the person whose birthday is being celebrated, and serves to address the song to them. Thus:

addressing phrase

Copyright status

History of the song

The public domain song Good-Morning to All
GoodMorningToAll 1893 song.ogg
Song Good-Morning to All. 22sec.

The origins of "Happy Birthday To You" date back to the mid-nineteenth century, when two sisters, Patty and Mildred J. Hill, began singing the song "Good Morning To All" to their kindergarten class in Kentucky. In 1893, they published the tune in their songbook Song Stories for the Kindergarten. However, many believe that the Hill sisters most likely copied the tune and lyrical idea from other songs from that time period.[citation needed] There were a number of popular and substantially similar nineteenth-century songs that predated the Hill sisters' composition, including Horace Waters' "Happy Greetings to All"; "Good Night to You All", also from 1858; "A Happy New Year to All", from 1875; and "A Happy Greeting to All", published 1885. The copyright for both the words and the music of "Good Morning to All" has since expired and both are now a part of the public domain.

The Hill Sisters' students enjoyed their teachers' version of "Good Morning To All" so much that they began spontaneously singing it at birthday parties, changing the lyrics to "Happy Birthday".[citation needed] In 1924, Robert Coleman included "Good Morning to All" in a songbook with the birthday lyrics as a second verse. Coleman also published "Happy Birthday" in The American Hymnal in 1933. Children's Praise and Worship, edited by Andrew Byers, Bessie L. Byrum and Anna E. Koglin, published the song in 1918.

In 1935 "Happy Birthday to You" was copyrighted as a work for hire by Preston Ware Orem for the Summy Company, the publisher of "Good Morning to All". A new company, Birch Tree Group Limited, was formed to protect and enforce the song's copyright. In 1998[10], the rights to "Happy Birthday to You" and its assets were sold to The Time-Warner Corporation. In March 2004, Warner Music Group was sold to a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. The company continues to insist that one cannot sing the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics for profit without paying royalties: in 2008, Warner collected about $5000 per day ($2 million per year) in royalties for the song.[2], pp. 4,68 This includes use in film, television, radio, anywhere open to the public, or even among a group where a substantial number of those in attendance are not family or friend to whoever is performing the song.

Except for the splitting of the first note in the melody "Good Morning to All" to accommodate the two syllables in the word "happy", "Happy Birthday to You" and "Good Morning to All" are melodically identical. Precedent (regarding works derived from public domain material, and cases comparing two similar musical works[citation needed]) seems to suggest that the melody used in "Happy Birthday to You" would not merit additional copyright status for one split note. Whether or not changing the words "good morning" to "happy birthday" should be covered by copyright is a different matter. The words "good morning" were replaced with "happy birthday" by others than the authors of "Good Morning to All". Regardless of the fact that "Happy Birthday to You" infringed upon "Good Morning to All", there is one theory that because the "Happy Birthday to You" variation was not written by the Hills, and it was published without notice of copyright under the Copyright Act of 1909, the 1935 registration is invalid.[citation needed]

Professor Robert Brauneis cited problems with the song's authorship and the notice and renewal of the copyright, and concluded "It is almost certainly no longer under copyright."[2] Many question the validity of the current copyright, as the melody of the song was most likely borrowed from other popular songs of the time, and the lyrics were improvised by a group of five- and six-year-old children who never received any compensation.[citation needed]

In European Union (EU) countries the copyright will expire December 31, 2016,[11] while in the United States, the song is currently set to pass in to the public domain in 2030.

Copyright issues and public performances

Royalty amounts sought

The Walt Disney Company paid the copyright holder U.S. $5,000 to use the song in the birthday scene of the defunct Epcot attraction Horizons.[citation needed]

The documentary film The Corporation claims that Warner/Chappell charges up to U.S. $10,000 for the song to appear in a film. Because of the copyright issue, filmmakers rarely show complete singalongs of "Happy Birthday" in films, either substituting the public-domain "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" or avoiding the song entirely. Before the song was copyrighted it was used freely, as in Bosko's Party, a Warner Brothers cartoon of 1932, where a chorus of animals sings it twice through. The entire song is performed in tribute to the title character of Batman Begins, a Warner Brothers film.

In the 1987 documentary Eyes on the Prize about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there was a birthday party scene in which Dr. King's discouragement began to lift. After its initial release, the film was unavailable for sale or broadcast for many years because of the cost of clearing many copyrights, of which "Happy Birthday to You" was one. Grants in 2005 for copyright clearances [12] have allowed PBS to rebroadcast the film as recently as February 2008.[13]

Many restaurants have original, modern, corporate-developed songs that are used instead of "Happy Birthday to You" when serving patrons cake on their birthdays. Originally, these songs were specifically developed to prevent copyright infringement and having to pay royalties. In Mike Jittlov's 1989 film The Wizard of Speed and Time, Jittlov avoided all copyright and royalty problems by using a replacement song, "Merry Birthday to You", which he wrote himself.

One of the most famous performances of "Happy Birthday to You" was Marilyn Monroe's rendition to U.S. President John F. Kennedy in May 1962.

Jukeboxes sometimes contain a recording by Big-Band Era crooner Eddy Howard with his orchestra. His version sings the familiar words to the "Happy Birthday" song at a deliberate pace, with the orchestra playing two beats where the name would be, while Howard says nothing. The pace picks up with a chorus of "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here". The record returns to the deliberate pace to conclude with a reprise of the "Happy Birthday" song.

See also


  1. ^ The Guinness Book of World Records 1998, p. 180 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Brauneis, Robert (2008-03-21), Copyright and the World's Most Popular Song, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1111624, retrieved 2008-05-08 
  3. ^ Originally published in Song Stories for the Kindergarten (Chicago: Clayton E. Summy Co., 1896), as cited by Snyder, Agnes. Dauntless Women in Childhood Education, 1856-1931. 1972. Washington, D.C.: Association for Childhood Education International. p. 244.
  4. ^ KET - History: Little Loomhouse
  5. ^ Uncorking that Joyful Noise
  6. ^ The Wendy Williams Show, February 4, 2010, said of a performance by Ms. Williams and her studio audience.
  7. ^ EU countries observe the "life + 70" copyright standard.
  8. ^ 537 US 186, Justice Stevens, dissenting, II, C
  9. ^ "Good morning". Time. August 27, 1934. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,747783,00.html. Retrieved 22 March 2009. 
  10. ^ http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/music-licensing5.htm
  11. ^ EU countries observe the "life + 70" copyright standard.
  12. ^ Dean, Katie (2005-08-30). "Cash Rescues Eyes on the Prize". wired.com. http://www.wired.com/news/culture/digiwood/0,68664-0.html. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  13. ^ "PBS News: PBS Celebrates Black History Month with an Extensive Lineup of Special Programming". PBS. 2008-01-10. http://www.pbs.org/aboutpbs/news/20080110_blackhistory.html. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 

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