United States Denies Claim to Happy Birthday Song

November 18, 2015

Unlocking Word Meanings

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

1. popular / ˈpɒp yə lər / (adj.) – referring to something that is well-known
Example: The song was popular among children.

2. legal / ˈli gəl / (adj.) – describing something that is based on the law
Example:  The author has legal rights to his book.

3. deny / dɪˈnaɪ / (v.) – to refuse to give something to someone
Example:  The court denied the man of his rights.

4. copyright / ˈkɒp iˌraɪt / (n.) – the license to be able to use a particular material
Example: The copyright of the song belongs to my father.

5. extensive / ɪkˈstɛn sɪv / (adj.) – referring to something that is done thoroughly
Example: Bernard did an extensive study on nursery rhymes.


Read the text below.
The battle for what is arguably the world's most popular song is over.

In September, a Los Angeles judge has made a decision involving legal rights to the Happy Birthday song. LA judge George King denied the copyright claims of Warner/Chappell Production Music. This means that filmmakers and other media producers will be allowed to use the song without having to pay licensing fees to the company.

Warner/Chappell’s claim to the song goes back to the late 1800s to Patty Hill, a teacher and her sister, Mildred. The song was originally written for Patty’s kindergarten class and was titled “Good Morning to All.” It was published in a book placed under the copyright of its publisher, Clayton F. Summy Co. The rights were later transferred to Birchtree Ltd.  In 1988, Warner/Chappell acquired Birchtree Ltd., thus earning them the song’s rights.

Last year, American filmmaker Jennifer Nelson sued the company. She just started to work on a documentary on the history of the Happy Birthday song, but was shocked to learn that she would have to pay licensing fees in exchange for using the song in her film.

Nelson's arguments are based from a 2008 paper written by law professor Robert Brauneis [BROU-nahys]. Before Brauneis, nobody questioned Warner/Chappell’s claim on the song. He conducted extensive research on the copyright history of the song and argued that based on its history, the song does not belong to the company.

Judge King ruled that Warner/Chappell’s claim to the song is invalid. He said that Summy Co. only has rights for the arrangement of the song, or the way that it is played, but not for the music and lyrics.  

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Do you agree that Warner/Chapell should own the copyright of the song? Why or why not?
·         What do you think would happen if Warner/Chappell continued to own the copyright?

Discussion B

·         What song do you wish you had the copyright to? Why?
·         What birthday song would you rather sing to someone instead of Happy Birthday? Why?

November 18, 2015