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Music by VICE

The "Happy Birthday" Song Has Finally Been Freed from the Greedy Grips of Copyright

As of yesterday, a federal court judge in Los Angeles has declared the song to belong to the public domain.

by Alexander Iadarola
Sep 23 2015, 4:20pm


One of the many backwards things about capitalism is that things which are de facto of the public domain—items which for all intents and purposes belong to everybody, like water or air—can be privatized. One weird example of this is the "Happy Birthday" song, which you might realize has rarely made an appearance in copyrighted material. In cases where it has been used, someone's been getting paid.

As of yesterday, though, the script has finally been flipped: The Guardian reports that a federal court judge in Los Angeles has declared the song to belong to the public domain, and that the previous copyright claim to the lyrics was "implausible and unreasonable" (the Los Angeles Times reports that publisher Warner/Chappell previously used it to rake in roughly $2 million a year due to royalties from the song). This also means that for all the bedroom producers out there, you can finally do that trap, kuduro, grime, hardstyle, or bubbling "Happy Birthday" remix that you've long dreamt about, and actually hope to make some money from it. If that's your plan, be sure to consult The THUMP Guide to Music Publishing first.

To celebrate, here's an off-brand minion singing this beautiful and inspiring song: