“Happy Birthday to You” is arguably the most famous song in the world — it’s also the reason why you owe hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to a giant corporation. Let’s backtrack: in 1893, sisters Patty and Mildred J. Hill wrote a song called “Good Morning to All” for Patty’s kindergarten class, but they liked the melody so much, they eventually changed “good morning” to “happy birthday.” It was first published in a songbook in 1918, before being copyrighted in 1935 by Preston Ware Orem, who worked for the Clayton F. Summy Company (later Birch Tree Ltd.). Decades later, in 1998, the rights to “Happy Birthday to You” were sold to Warner/Chappell Music Inc, the publishing arm of Warner Music Group, which is owned by Time Warner Corporation.
There are about a million other confusing transactions in the story, but those are the basic facts, and why “Happy Birthday” is copyrighted; in fact, according to Snopes, the song brings in roughly $2 million in royalties annually for Warner. Free Music Archive, an “interactive library of high-quality, legal audio downloads,” adds that “it can cost independent filmmakers $10,000 to clear the song for their films,” which is why they’re hosting a contest to write a new “Happy Birthday,” one that will be “freely incorporated into new works of art.” The prize?
The top three winners according to our incredible panel of judges will be included on a special CD promoting the winning Birthday song alternatives. This CD will be professionally designed, packaged and mailed by the Free Music Archive to parties who might want to use these songs, including movie studios, theater troupes, restaurant chains, sports leagues, scouting associations, youth groups, minor league baseball teams, major league Jai Alai squads, and bowling alleys. We’ll also send the tracks to music journalists, bloggers and radio stations to help get the word out and cement the new songs into the cultural subconscious.
The CDs will be accompanied by a letter explaining that “Happy Birthday To You” is under strict copyright protection, and encouraging the recipient to use the CD under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution. Together, this is our best shot at dethroning “Happy Birthday To You” at long last. (Via)
All the specifics can be found on their website, but just think: your song could make kids cry for the next 100 years! That’s priceless. Here’s your competition.