Monday, 2 September 2013

"Happy Birthday to YOU".. But it'll cost you.

Who would have thought that "Happy Birthday" the most sung song in the world is copyrighted. Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson found out the hard way. When she decided to make a movie about the song she discovered that the rights were owned by Warner Chapell, the publishing arm of the Warner Music Group.  She paid $1500 and decided to sue to have it put in the public domain. The company collects approximately  $2 million a year for the rights.

banj0e /
HB has a long and convoluted history. In the late 1800s two sisters, Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill wrote "Good Morning to All" to the same tune as HB. Over the years it evolved into the song that almost everyone in the world is familiar with. In fact, what would a birthday be without it. That was the story Ms Nelson wanted to tell. Other filmmakers have also paid for the rights. It was an important scene in "Hoop Dreams".  Steve James paid $5000 for the rights. Now Robert Braumeis, professor at George Washington University Law school has written a 68-page article titled "Copyright and the World's Most Popular Song." He doubts that the tune is under copyrights legally.

Ms Nelson is still making the documentary and the story has got a whole lot more dramatic. Her lawyer is trying to get a class-action status so everyone who has paid to use it can get in on the act. What would Mildred and Patty think? Probably laughing their heads off that the the world has gone crazy.

Q. What happened to Billy (the cat not the guy he was named after)? 

A. We still haven't found a home for him, but a big dinner is being prepared for some prospective guardians. No expense has been spared. In the meantime he is eating up a storm, cavorting around during the day, and sleeps like a rock at night. A perfect cat.

Note:  littlemargiedoc-blog is taking a break while on the road.