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"Happy Birthday to You" is a song which is sung to celebrate the anniversary of a person's birth. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, "Happy Birthday to You" is the most popular song in the English language, followed by "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and "Auld Lang Syne". The song has been translated into many languages, though it is often sung with the English lyrics even in countries where English is not a primary language.


The melody of "Happy Birthday to You" was written by American sisters Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill in 1893 when they were school teachers in Louisville, Kentucky. The verse was originally intended as a classroom greeting entitled "Good Morning to All". The version as we know it was copyrighted in 1935 by the Summy Company as an arrangement by Preston Ware Orem, and is scheduled to expire in 2030. This was the first known written version to include the lyrics. The company holding the copyright was purchased by Warner Chappell in 1990 for $15 million dollars, with the value of "Happy Birthday" estimated at $5 million. While the current copyright status of the song is unclear, Warner claims that unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal unless royalties are paid to them. It is unknown, but speculated upon who wrote the lyrics to "Happy Birthday to You".



Good Morning To All original Happy Birthday song 1893


"Good-Morning to All" public domain song 1893





"Good Morning to All"

Good morning to you,

Good morning to you,

Good morning, dear children,

Good morning to all.


"Happy Birthday to You"


The lyrics to "Happy Birthday to You" can be found on the purported copyright owner's website.





Popular comical variations include:

  • "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, you look like a monkey, and you smell like one too" (or "and belong in a zoo")

  • "Happy birthday to you, you belong in a zoo, cause you look like a monkey and you smell like one too!".

  • "Happy birthday to you, squashed tomatoes and stew, bread and butter in the gutter, happy birthday to you."

  • "Happy birthday to you, you're one hundred and two, you smell like a monkey, and you eat like one too!".

  • "Happy birthday to you, I went to the zoo, I saw a fat monkey, and it looked just like you!".

  • In Spanish: Apio verde tuyo, apio verde tuyo... Meaning: Your green celery, your green celery... (sounds like the English "happy birthday to you")

There is also the supplemental ending "and many more, on Channel 4, and Scooby Doo, on Channel 2, and Frankenstein on Channel 9, and Toy Story on Channel 40, and the Jolly Lady on Channel 80, and G.I. Joe on HBO, and all the rest, on CBS...".


Additional: And The Flying Nun on Channel 1, and Seventh Heaven on Channel 7, and CBC, on Channel 3, and Zoboomafoo, on Channel 32, and Everybody Loves Raven, on Channel 27, and Everybody Hates Raymond, on Channel second...



"Happy Birthday to You" copyright status


Copyright in the U.S.


There is a 1935 copyright registration for "Happy Birthday to You", as a work for hire by Preston Ware Orem for the Summy Company (the publisher of "Good Morning to All"). "Good Morning to All", however, was published in 1893 and is public domain by U.S. statute. The current owner of the 1935 copyright believes that one cannot sing "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics for profit without paying royalties. Except for the splitting of the first note in the melody "Good Morning to All" to accommodate the two syllables in the word happy, melodically "Happy Birthday to You" and "Good Morning to All" are identical.


"Good Morning to All" is printed in Song Stories for the Kindergarten, published 1893 (revised edition published 1896). It credited Patty Hill for the lyrics and Mildred Hill for the music.


Neither the words nor the music of "Good Morning to All" is copyrighted under U.S. federal statute.


In 1924, Robert Coleman included "Good Morning to All" in a songbook with the birthday lyrics as a second verse. Coleman also published "Happy Birthday" in The American Hymnal in 1933. Children's Praise and Worship, edited by Andrew Byers, Bessie L. Byrum and Anna E. Koglin, published the song in 1928.


Later the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics combined with the Hills' published melody showed up on stage. The Broadway musical The Band Wagon used "Happy Birthday to You" in 1931. There was no copyright for the Happy Birthday lyrics at the time. Contrary to what is often erroneously reported, the lawsuit was dropped, and there was no outcome to the case. As a result, the Summy Company registered the copyright for Happy Birthday to You, which does not affect today's public domain status of "Good Morning to All."


Precedent (regarding works derived from public domain material, and cases comparing two similar musical works) seems to suggest that the melody used in "Happy Birthday to You" would not merit additional copyright status for one split note.


Whether or not changing the words "good morning" to "happy birthday" should be protected by copyright is a different matter. The words "good morning" were substituted with "happy birthday" by others than the authors of "Good Morning to All".


An interesting earlier songbook is The Golden Book of Favorite Songs (Chicago: Hall & McCreary, 1915). It includes the song "Good Morning to You" printed with the alternate title: "Happy Birthday to You." However, the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics are not actually printed with it.


Regardless of the fact that "Happy Birthday to You" infringed upon Good Morning to All, there is one theory that because the "Happy Birthday to You" variation was not authored by the Hills, and it was published without notice of copyright under the 1909 U. S. copyright act, that the 1935 registration is invalid.



Copyright in other jurisdictions


Outside of the United States both the melody and the words are under copyright in those jurisdictions with a copyright term of length of the life of the author plus 70 years. Of the two co-writers of the melody, Patty Hill's life determines the length of copyright as she died decades after her sister in 1946. The lyrics on the other hand are copyrighted with reference to their writer Preston Ware Orem who died in 1938. In jurisdictions where copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, the lyrics will come out of copyright at the end of 2008 and the music will come out of copyright at the end of 2016.


In those jurisdictions in which copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years, both the lyrics and music are already out of copyright.



Copyright issues and public performances


In 1955, Igor Stravinsky arranged a variation of the song, called Greeting Prelude, to commemorate the 80th birthday of Pierre Monteux. The Russian-born composer wrote that he had been introduced to the tune only five years earlier, when members of an orchestra with whom he was rehearsing, to his bafflement at the time, played the tune in honor of a recent birth among the orchestra members.


One of the most famous performances of "Happy Birthday to You" was Marilyn Monroe's rendition to U.S. President John F. Kennedy in May 1962.

The song was also sung by the crew of Apollo IX on March 8, 1969, perhaps qualifying as the first song sung in space.


Many restaurants have original, modern, corporate-developed songs that are used instead of the old-fashioned "Happy Birthday to You" when serving patrons with the traditional cake on their birthday. Originally, these songs were specifically developed to prevent copyright infringement and having to pay royalties.


In the Homestar Runner cartoon "Strong Bad Sings", there is a scene where The Cheat plays "Happy Birthday to You" on the piano while Strong Mad struggles to remember the words to the song. When the toon was released on DVD, "Happy Birthday to You" was replaced with the public domain song "Hot Cross Buns". On the DVD commentary, Mike Chapman remarked: "Those Nazis!"


In the movie The Corporation, the copyright issue itself is cited as an example demonstrating that a corporation is theoretically a psychopath if considered a living person. The Corporation claims that Warner/Chappell charge up to US$10,000 for the song to appear in a film.


In the first season of the show Sports Night, Dan Rydell is told that his company will have to pay $2,500 in legal costs because he sang "Happy Birthday" to his co-anchor Casey on air.


On the show "Upright Citizens Brigade", the cast created their own birthday song which became a running joke throughout the three seasons. During the commentary on the DVD release the cast cites the copyright of "Happy Birthday to You" as their inspiration













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