“Happy Birthday Song” Belongs to everyone, says American Filmmaker

August 7, 2013

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. documentary [dok-yuh-MEN-tuh-ree] (n.) – a movie or TV show that is based on actual events and facts
Example: The documentary about the public education system contains real events from public schools.

2. copyright [KOP-ee-rahyt] (n.)  – the exclusive right to sell, publish, print, or license a literary, musical, or artistic work such a book or a song
Example: The singer who owned the song’s copyright collects licensing fees from the advertising agency.

3. royalty [ROI-uh l-tee] (n.) – an amount of money that is paid to a copyright owner
Example: The author of the book has earned more than $2 million in royalties.

4. sue [soo] (v.) – to file legal charges against a person or company
Example: Because of spreading false statements, the TV network is suing some of the show’s critics.

5. lyrics [LIR-iks] (n.) – the words used in a song
Example: The singer asked me if she could use my poem as lyrics for her new song.


Read the text below.

A filmmaker in the US is suing a music company to invalidate its copyright on the popular song "Happy Birthday."

Jennifer Nelson is working on a documentary about the history of the said song when she discovered that in order to use “Happy Birthday” in the film, she needs to pay a licensing fee. Anyone who wishes to use the song will have to pay $1,500 to Warner/Chappell, the company who claims to own the copyright to the “Happy Birthday” song.

Last month, Nelson filed a lawsuit against Warner/Chappell seeking to make the rights to the song available to the public.

According to Nelson, she is shocked that someone claims to own a song that everyone in the world knows. She noted that Warner/Chappell has been earning millions of dollars in unlawful royalties over the years.

The song has a long, controversial history that dates back to the 19th century. The melody of the song comes from “Good Morning to You,” a song written by sisters Mildred and Patty Hill at the end of the 19th century. Somewhere along the way, the lyrics evolved to what is now known as “Happy Birthday.”

According to Nelson, however, Warner/Chappell was not the one who wrote the words, which means that it could not possibly own the copyright.

In reality, no one knows the origin of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song, Nelson said. Thus, she firmly believes that the song needs to be returned to the public where it rightfully belongs.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Do you agree that popular songs like “Happy Birthday” should not be copyrighted? Why or why not?
·         In your opinion, what kinds of work should be copyrightable? Please explain your answer.

Discussion B

·         Why do you think putting copyright to products is important?
·         Do you agree that putting copyrights sometimes prevents innovation? Why or why not?


August 7, 2013