Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy Birthday To You: Now, Pony Up

Do you know the real reason you keep hearing restaurant employees singing odd, made-up birthday greetings songs (often accompanied by a lot of aggressive clapping) instead of "Happy Birthday To You" when presenting a cake to someone at a table? It’s because if they sung “Happy Birthday To You,” the most-recognized song in the English language, they would have their asses sued off.

Yes: “Happy Birthday” is protected by copyright and you are not legally allowed to sing it (for profit) without compensating the Time-Warner Corporation. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because it’s so ubiquitous a cultural phenomenon the company will be blind to your transgression. They DO collect, to the tune of $2 million per year.

The copyright is looked upon by some legal scholars as of dubious validity due to its genesis as the song “Good Morning To All,” published in 1935, which is identical in every respect except for the words “Happy Birthday.” Regardless of whether this most profitable ditty is legal or not, you cannot sing it without breaking the law until 2030, when the current copyright expires. Clowns and kiddie entertainers take note. 

Oh well. At least it can’t be too hard to blow out the candle on this glorious cake out and make all your wishes come true.

Encyclopedia of Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens, 1970

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