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Finally, You Can Sing "Happy Birthday to You" Without Owing Royalties


After 3 years of battling in court, Warner Music and its affiliates that held the rights to "Happy Birthday to You" agreed to return the song to the public domain. Under the tentative settlement, they will drop their claims to future royalties from the copyright and pay $14 million to those who have had to fork over licensing fees to use the song in the past.

Originally recorded in 1893 by Mildred and Patty Hill as "Good Morning to All," the birthday-themed lyrics of the modern tune were published in 1911. The central dispute in this case was whether and to whom the Hills had transferred the rights to the original tune.

The judge ruled that, since the original copyright on the song expired in 1949 and the Hills' publisher had never acquired the rights to the lyrics, Warner's current copyright is not valid. As such, the agreement adds, "All parties believe the song will be in the public domain on the final settlement date."

In December, Reason TV took a look at another side of copyright law that is particularly important for journalists, filmmakers, and musicians: fair use. Watch below to see how South Park saved this important protector of free speech.