According to Robert Brauneis's extensively researched "Copyright and the World's Most Popular Song
," "Happy Birthday to You" is not under copyright after all.
This will come as a shock to most of you, to whom it had never occurred that "Happy Birthday to You" was ever under copyright.
However, if you've ever wondered why people were singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" at a birthday party in a low-budget movie, the specific reason has been that Warner Chappell claims it owns the song, which brings in a staggering $2,000,000 a year in royalties. That, in spite of the music dating back to 1893.
The general reason is that Disney, in its efforts to keep a certain mouse under copyright, has convinced Congress to extend copyright to a ridiculous 95 years, thus slowing the spread of culture.
Brauneis's paper is a step in the right direction. But I doubt any Errors and Omissions lawyer will be willing to take a chance on not paying royalties to Warner Chappell; at least until someone actually gets a judgment that HB2U is public domain.
So we'll probably continue to hear "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" in student films and D2DVD movies. Though, arguably, you could have people hum