A portion of music manuscript for Happy Birthday's predecessor, 'Good Morning to All' (courtesy of University of Louisville).

A portion of music manuscript for Happy Birthday’s predecessor, ‘Good Morning to All’ (courtesy of University of Louisville).

‘Happy Birthday To You’ is a staple of birthday parties around the world, but, until now, it couldn’t be sung in public or in TV shows and movies without paying a sizeable licence fee.

Now, though, a US federal judge has ruled that music publisher Warner/Chappell does not hold a valid copyright to the song.

Warner/Chappell has been collecting royalties on the song since acquiring the copyright in 1988 for some $25m (£16m). The publisher has reportedly been making around $2m a year from royalty payments whenever the song is used in a film, TV show, advertisement or any other kind of public performance. According to the Internet Movie Database, ‘Happy Birthday To You’ has been featured in nearly 150 films.

Judge George King has ruled that the original copyright (filed in 1935) was only granted for specific piano arrangements based on the original melody, and did not grant any rights to the lyrics.

The tune was composed in 1893 by two Kentucky sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill. They called their version ‘Good Morning To All’ which later evolved into the ‘Happy Birthday’ version which is now popular all over the world.

The case against Warner/Chappell was launched in 2013 by Rupa Marya and Robert Siegel, who are making a film about the history of the song. The music publisher wanted to charge $1,500 (£970) for the right to use the song in the film, but Marya and Siegel maintained that the song was in the public domain and should not be subject to copyright fees.

The ruling now puts the song in the public domain fifteen years before the copyright was due to expire in the US in 2030.

So here it is … royalty-free! And if it’s YOUR birthday today, happy birthday from all of us at The Hit Formula  …

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