Probably the world’s most famous birthday song has an interesting copyright history. It was written by the sisters Mildred J. Hill (1859-1916) and Patty Smith Hill (1868-1946) from Kentucky as a morning welcome song for the children of the “Louisville Experimental Kindergarten” with the original title “Good Morning to All”. Hardly anyone was aware that the music publisher Warner/Chappell Music demanded money for public performances (it was sometimes per second) and thus raised about
[ million a year. Unjustly, as it turned out now.
In September 2015, an American court ruled that the rights of the alleged owner had collected millions of dollars in royalties for decades without justification. According to EU copyright law, however, the protection lasts until 31.12.2016, 70 years after the death of the last deceased composer.
The court’s decision follows a complaint by filmmaker Jennifer Nelson from New York, who made a documentary film about the song and its origins in 2013. And Warner/Chappel charged her 00 license fee (or 0,000 fine).
Here is an amusing legal analysis of the complex international copyright around “Happy Birthday to You” by Prof. Dr. Thomas Hoeren (Münster) in German.
Today I made an interesting phone call with Gema and got the following information (by two employees): I am allowed to upload my recording of “Happy Birthday” to YouTube without charge. The community has been in litigation with YouTube for years. According to the viewpoint of Gema, it is not the uploaders but YouTube who are responsible for processing the Gema. If the situation remains as it is until 1.1.2017 – on that date the exploitation right expires even under EU law – then the song is free in this way also in Germany, if it is not censored by YouTube.
I look forward to your comment. Maybe you sing it yourself and post your version?