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|"Happy Birthday to You"|
Candles spell out the traditional English birthday greeting
|Written by||Patty Hill|
Mildred J. Hill
|"Happy Birthday to You"|
Candles spell out the traditional English birthday greeting
|Written by||Patty Hill|
Mildred J. Hill
"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". The song's base lyrics have been translated into at least 18 languages., p. 17 The melody of "Happy Birthday to You" comes from the song "Good Morning to All", which has been attributed to American siblings Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill in 1893, although the claim that the sisters composed the tune is disputed. Patty was a kindergarten principal in Louisville, Kentucky, developing various teaching methods at what is now the Little Loomhouse; Mildred was a pianist and composer., p. 7 The sisters used "Good Morning to All" as a song that young children would find easy to sing., p. 14
The combination of melody and lyrics in "Happy Birthday to You" first appeared in print in 1912, and probably existed even earlier., 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 1988, Warner/Chappell Music purchased the company owning the copyright for $25 million, with the value of "Happy Birthday" estimated at $5 million. Based on the 1935 copyright registration, Warner claims that the United States copyright will not expire until 2030, and that unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal unless royalties are paid to Warner. In one specific instance in February 2010, these royalties were said to amount to $700. In the European Union, the copyright of the song will expire no later than December 31, 2016.
The American 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. American law professor Robert Brauneis, who extensively researched the song, has concluded that "It is almost certainly no longer under copyright."  In 2013, based in large part on Brauneis's research, Good Morning to You Productions, a documentary film company, sued Warner/Chappell for falsely claiming copyright to the song.
The song consists of four lines, the first two and the last of which are the same as the title of the song: "Happy birthday to you". The third line is "Happy birthday, dear _____", where the blank is replaced by the name of the person whose birthday is being celebrated, and serves to address the song to that person. For example, "Happy Birthday, dear Henry." This naturally leads to problems of scansion if the name is not two syllables with the stress on the first syllable, and can result in a breakdown of ensemble if excessive ad hoc adjustment is required, for example if the person is known to some celebrants as "Mrs. Winterbottom" and to some as "Eleanor".
It is traditional, among English-speakers, that at a birthday party, the song "Happy Birthday to You" is sung to the birthday person by the other guests celebrating the birthday. More specifically, the birthday person is traditionally presented with a birthday cake with lit candles, with the number of candles sometimes corresponding to the age of the person. After the song is sung (usually just once), party guests sometimes add wishes like "And many more!" expressing the hope that the birthday person will enjoy a long life. The birthday person may be asked to make a wish ("Make a wish!")—which she or he does silently—and then is supposed to blow out the candles. Traditionally, blowing out of the candles is believed (or is considered a lighthearted superstition) to ensure that the wish will come true. Once the candles have been blown out, people may applaud, after which the cake may be served, often with the first piece being served to the person whose birthday it is.
In Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, immediately after "Happy Birthday" has been sung, it is traditional for one of the guests to enthusiastically lead with "Hip hip..." and then for all of the other guests to join in and say "...hooray!" This is normally repeated three times. This custom goes back to much older songs in Dutch (Lang zal hij/zij leven), German (Hoch soll er/sie leben) and Swedish (Ja, må han/hon leva).
The origins of "Happy Birthday to You" date back to at least the mid-19th century, when two sisters, Patty and Mildred J. Hill, introduced the song "Good Morning to All" to Patty's kindergarten class in Kentucky. Years later, in 1893, they published the tune in their songbook Song Stories for the Kindergarten. Kembrew McLeod stated that the Hill sisters likely copied the tune and lyrical idea from other popular and similar nineteenth-century songs that predated theirs, 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. However, Brauneis disputes this, noting that these earlier songs had quite different melodies., pp. 12–14
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". The first book including the "Happy birthday" lyric set to the tune of "Good Morning to All" that bears a date of publication is “The Beginners’ Book of Songs,” published by the Cable Company, a piano manufacturer, in 1912., p. 31 Children's Praise and Worship, edited by Andrew Byers, Bessie L. Byrum and Anna E. Koglin, published the song in 1918. 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.
In 1935, "Happy Birthday to You" was copyrighted as a work for hire crediting Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman 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.
Warner/Chappell Music acquired Birch Tree Group Limited in 1988 for $25 million. 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 $5,000 per day ($2 million per year) in royalties for the song., pp. 4,68 Warner/Chappell claims copyright for every use in film, television, radio, anywhere open to the public, and for any group where a substantial number of those in attendance are not family or friends of whoever is performing the song. 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."
In the EU, copyright lasts for the life of the author(s) plus 70 years; since Patty Hill (the last surviving author) died in 1946, the copyright in these countries would expire following December 31, 2016, if it is presumed that its copyright is valid. However, in the United States, this rule does not apply to any works published prior to 1978; copyright duration is tied exclusively to the publication date, assuming the necessary copyright notice appeared upon publication and proper renewal was filed. If these formalities were properly followed for a valid copyright, the song would not pass into the public domain until the end of 2030, 95 years after the alleged "publication" by the authors.
On June 13, 2013, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson filed a class action suit in federal court for the Southern District of New York against Warner/Chappell in the name of her production company, Good Morning to You Productions. As part of a documentary she was making about the song and its history, she had paid $1,500 to secure the rights. Her complaint relies heavily on Brauneis' research, seeking not only the return of her money but all royalties collected by the company from other filmmakers since 2009. The plaintiff on July 26, 2013, without explanation, voluntarily dismissed the action in the New York court, without prejudice to its right to bring a new case. The lawsuit has continued in federal court in California as a putative class action under the name Rupa Marya, et al. v. Warner/Chappell Music.
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. Another notable use was by comedy pianist Victor Borge, who would play the song in styles of various composers, or begin playing Moonlight Sonata, smoothly transitioning into the song.
The documentary film The Corporation states that Warner/Chappell charges up to US$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 copyright status of "Happy Birthday to You" is directly referenced in "iMake Sam Girlier", a 2009 episode of the TV series iCarly, in which a character begins to sing the song but is prevented from doing so by another character who points out the song isn't public domain; "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" is then sung instead.
The copyright is also referenced frequently in a Disney A.N.T. Farm episode where characters repeatedly try to sing the song, only to be stopped by others reminding them of the price. The melody of the song is also featured in The Wrong Trousers but was replaced with "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" for DVD releases. The use of the song is a problem even if it is sung in a made up language, as a Klingon-language version was nixed in pre-production from the 7th season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called "Parallels", replaced with "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" in Klingon. In the Futurama episode "I Second That Emotion", they poke fun at the song and its copyright by making their own version with the lyrics "What day is today? / It's (birthday person)'s birthday / What a day for a birthday / Let's all have some cake."
In the 30 Rock episode "Goodbye, My Friend", TGS cast members begin to sing the song following an announcement about the royalty fee for singing "Happy Birthday to You" on a television show. The cast is interrupted after the first line by a character entering the scene. In the Community episode "Mixology Certification", a scene starts with the last two words of the song ("...to you"), implying it had been sung in its entirety, but it is then revealed that the characters sang only those two words, because the birthday boy comes from a culture in which birthdays are not celebrated. Given the other instances listed here, it is likely that this choice was made for the show for the additional reason that it avoids paying royalties for the song, and, given the style of humor on Community, because it subverts the TV trope of starting a scene with the end of an activity whose exact content is unimportant to the story.
In the 1987 documentary Eyes on the Prize about the US Civil Rights Movement, there was a birthday party scene in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'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 have allowed PBS to rebroadcast the film as recently as February 2008.
On August 5, 2013, the first anniversary of its landing on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover celebrated its "birthday" when engineers at Goddard Space Flight Center used the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument to cause the rover to "sing" Happy Birthday on the Martian surface.