Not So Happy Birthday
You Learn Something New Every Day!
A bit of advice that I always give myself is to learn something every day. Well today I learned that a well know song, that has been around since 1893 is copy written. That is right folks, “Happy Birthday to You,” is copy written. The melody to “Happy Birthday to You” was written by school teacher Mildred J. Hill in Louisville, Kentucky. The lyrics to the song were originally written as a classroom song entitled “Good Morning to All” by Mildred’s sister Patty. The original song was copy written by the sisters in 1935.
Thirty-One years later the sisters were shocked, when their song showed up in a songbook edited by Robert H. Coleman. Robert altered the song, changing the opening line in the second stanza to “Happy Birthday to You.”
Over the next decade the song became popular, being published and altered many times. The sister’s original line” Good Morning to All” disappeared from the song and it became known as “Happy Birthday to You.” Following Mildred’s death, Patty and her sister Jessica took Mr. Coleman to court. Many were surprised to learn that royalties were owed to the sisters for use of the song. Western Union and Postal Telegraph ceased using the song in their singing telegrams that were popular from 1938 to 1942.
Ownership for the song has since changed hands several times. In 1988, Birch Tree Group, Ltd. sold “Happy Birthday to You” to Time Warner for an estimated 25 million. “Happy Birthday” is not set to go into the public domain until 2030.
“Happy Birthday to You,” “Auld Lang Syne” and “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” are the top three songs in the English language. (Reported in the Guinness Book of World Records.)
So is it illegal to sing” Happy Birthday” to your children? Not if you are only singing it at home, you just can’t sing it publicly. Restaurants such as Applebee’s and Shoney’s have developed songs that are used instead of “Happy Birthday to You” to avoid copyright infringement and having to pay royalties.
Royalties are due for commercial use of the song, such as in movies, theater performances, television and other public performances.
Today, many alternatives to the famous song exist, some written as humorous parodies. The original lyrics to the song written by the Hill sisters are:
Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.
Patty Hill passed away in 1946 at the age of 57 and Mildred died in 1916 at the age of 78. According to snopes.com the song “Happy Birthday to You” continues to bring in about million in royalties annually with the proceeds going to Summy-Birchard and the Hill Foundation.
Licenses for Happy Birthday are controlled by ASCAP. More information is available at
Who would of ever thought you be infringing on copyright by singing “Happy Birthday” publicly. I guess you really do learn something new everyday.
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