Sunday, June 16, 2013

Is the Party Over for the "Happy Birthday" Song?

The Happy Birthday song is in the news once again. Watch the video above for what is perhaps the most historic, famous and transparent performance ever of this song. Viewer discretion is advised.

Here is the complaint in a class action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York, which seeks a  declaration that any copyright rights owned by Warner/Chappell are extremely limited (to certain piano arrangements published in the 1930's) and that the song is and has been for a long time in the public domain.

More to the point, it seeks restitution of all license fees paid for the song going back to 2009. Presumably, that date is based upon a limitation period. And that could mean millions of dollars for the lawyers involved, if this succeeds.

Here's a remarkable paper by Prof. Robert Brauneis - which presumably forms the basis for the litigation. Prof. Brauneis told the NY Times:
“I believe this song is in the public domain and therefore it is not owned by anyone,” Professor Brauneis said in a phone interview on Thursday. He said “Happy Birthday to You” was “economically significant” in that it “still produces millions of dollars of income in a year,” and that a successful legal challenge “might be a model for challenges to other songs.”
The law suit has been assigned to the legendary Judge Louis Stanton.

And here's the best arrangement ever of this song - by Igor Stravinsky, the best composer of the twentieth century: 

Speaking of birthday's. May 29, 2013 was the 100th birthday of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, easily the most influential musical composition in the last century. It is performed here brilliantly by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony:


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