Home > It's A Legal Matter > So you say it’s your birthday?

So you say it’s your birthday?

By Jeff Terrill

Fort Wayne Reader

2015-03-05


I’ve attended a few birthday parties over the years. The younger the birth date, the better the chances the celebration is held in a restaurant, food court or some type of skating rink or trampoline location. It’s almost a certainty that there will be cake, candles and the singing of “Happy Birthday to You.”

Years ago I worked for a bit as a server in a Chicago area restaurant. I was something less than a model employee when it came to singing happy birthday to customers. I would do my best to get to the back of the other servers and force what some might describe as slight lip movement and clapping. The song was a lot faster and much different than the traditional “Happy Birthday To You” song that I knew.

Now I know why.

Back in the late 1800’s two sisters who taught kindergarten created a song that eventually became known as “Happy Birthday To You.” In the 1930’s, the sisters and another partner copyrighted their song. That meant that anyone who wished to profit from or perform their song needed permission from the sisters. It also meant that the sisters would be compensated for any such use.

A family singing the song within the confines of their home doesn’t need permission nor do they need to pay a fee. However, any for-profit reproduction or public performance, for example, of the “Happy Birthday To You” song is not allowed without permission.

That explains why the Chicago restaurant made us sing a different birthday tune. They didn’t want to pay. Next time you hear a birthday celebration at a restaurant, I bet the employees will not be singing the traditional “Happy Birthday To You.”

Warner Music Group, who acquired the rights to the “Happy Birthday To You” song many years ago, makes around two million dollars each year from the song. Many people suggest that the song is the most profitable song ever. If you hear the “Happy Birthday” song in a movie, e-card, television show or commercial, know that it came with a price.

So, the next time you’re at a birthday party and you don’t feel like singing, you can remain silent. Tell your friends or family members that you’re not singing because you don’t want to break the law.

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Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients accused of crimes throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at jterrill@fortwaynedefense.com. Learn more about his firm at www.fortwaynedefense.com. This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have. Thank you

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