Our bosses would never let this fly on our expense report, otherwise we would hire a lawyer right now and take Warner Music to court for hogging the rights to the world's most popular song — "Happy Birthday to You" — when we're told it doesn't even own them. At least that's the argument of Robert Brauneis, a law professor at George Washington University whose close read of the song's copyright history suggests anyone with enough money, free time or a sadistic streak could liberate "Happy Birthday" for public well-wishers around the world:
It is also a revenue-generating juggernaut, producing more than $2-million a year in fees for Warner Music and the offspring of Mildred and Patty Hill, the sisters who composed it in 1893. Chain restaurants have come up with their own birthday ditties so that they wouldn't have to pay performance royalties for the song, and the ASCAP licensing authority told the Girl Scouts of America that they would have to pay licensing fees because their campers sang the song. ...
The professor's exhaustive 69-page research study is available online, along with dozens of supporting documents. According to his research, while the Hill sisters may have had a legal claim to the original version of the song — a kindergarten ditty called "Good Morning to You" — there is no evidence that they composed the version that uses birthday lyrics, and therefore the claim filed in 1935 by a music publisher (later bought by Warner) is invalid. And since the company that filed that claim didn't have the proper rights, the extension that was later filed (which keeps the copyright in force until 2030) is also invalid.
We can think of no better use for the humanitarian millions lining the pockets of George Soros and the like than to step in for the sake of every Girl Scout, TGI Friday's server or film producer ensnared in the Hill Family's lethal four-line, seven-word trap. Look at it this way: Even Paramount balked at paying for "Happy Birthday"'s clearance in The Godfather, Part II, substituting "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" instead (the same thing happened 20 years later to the producers of Todd Haynes's Safe). Such extralegal festivity terrorism must end; class action starts now. Who's in?