Singing Happy Birthday is Risky Business – $10,000 Worth!

It’s birthday week at the Lindau’s. From the 11th to the 20th we will celebrate my sister’s, son’s, mother-in-law’s and husband’s special day. Whew! There will be many presents purchased, cakes baked and photographs taken. We are going to celebrate!

Where in the heck did birthday cakes come from anyway? After FSOG (five seconds on Google), I had my answer. Thank you Wikipedia. It was no big surprise. Germany baked the first celebratory cakes in the middle-ages. I wonder if they were German Chocolate or Black Forest. All I know is that they were probably dang tasty judging by the German bakeries I have had the pleasure of knowing intimately.

What about birthday candles? The Greeks made honey cakes and decorated them with candles as an offering to Artemis, the goddess of the moon. Apparently the flame resembled the moon. What? Well maybe if I squint my eyes…

In Europe, it was believed that evil lurked on a child’s birthday and somehow candle lighting would ward off the devilish lurker. How creepy to have worry about that! I always worried about getting the kids to Laser Storm on time.

Wishes go back to ancient mythology with the lighting of fires to send prayers to the gods. The Irish believed that blowing candles out after making a wish sent it to the heavens on its curling smoky vapor. Not true. Just made that up since I’m Irish. There is no conclusive history about who started that tradition.

Here’s the mind exploder! The history of the Happy Birthday song. Early credits go to the Hill sister’s, Patty and Mildred in 1893 who published the song, Good Morning to All! This was a ripped off modified version from the original by Horace Waters’ Happy Greetings to All.

Preston Ware Oren and Mrs. R.R. Forman were credited with composing Happy Birthday to You when the Summy Corporation copyrighted the song in 1935. In 1990, the song was purchased from the company by Warner Chappel for $15 million! The copyright won’t expire until 2030.

Anyone profiting from the song without permission risks being sued.

Whoa! So not only do we have to be careful of using photos and music without permission, we can’t sing the Happy Birthday song without taking the chance of being slapped with copyright infringement! Wendy Williams from the show of the same name stated that it cost her $700 to have the song performed on an episode. Some have paid up to $10,000 to include the song in a film.

Now that I think about it, I rarely hear Happy Birthday sung in movies. The lame and copyright-free song, For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow is usually substituted and now I understand why!

Another look at the history was an eyebrow raiser. Warner Chappel Music is from THE TIME-WARNER. They have been receiving around $5000 dollars a DAY in royalties since ’98 amounting to $2 million a year! Who is paying for the use of the song? According to Wikipedia, “This includes use in film, television, radio, anywhere open to the public, or even among a group where a substantial number of those in attendance are not family or friends of whoever is performing the song.”

Restaurants don’t allow their employees to sing it to their patrons, but opt for other unprotected Happy Birthday tunes.

Even though the company was sold in 2004, it is still illegal for anyone to perform or sing the song publicly. This is WARNER MUSIC people! I wouldn’t risk it, although there are several YouTube videos with views in the millions.

I think that as long as you don’t pass around a hat for your amazing vocals and sing only to your friends and family, you my dear readers, can sing Happy Birthday without risk of prosecution.

Happy Birthday to You is the most recognized song worldwide. Other copyright laws exist outside of the US, so I still wouldn’t dance on the table while singing karaoke in Madrid.

I will safely be singing the song four times this week with my family!

Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday dear everyone with a November birthday which seems like a lot of people,

Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday Patty, Kelly, Marilyn and Danny!

Did you know that the Happy Birthday song was protected?

Related articles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthday_cake

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Birthday_to_You

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About susielindau

I am a Boulder, Colorado writer and artist who loves adventure both real and imagined. Come with me. It's always a Wild Ride!
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91 Responses to Singing Happy Birthday is Risky Business – $10,000 Worth!

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  3. The Guat says:

    Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuude. I had no idea. Holy Crap! And you’re right I hardly ever hear the Happy Birthday song…For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow …huh…no wonder.

    Like

  4. Angelia Sims says:

    I just happened to buy a cake mix tonight and now I know why. I must celebrate these birthdays here in Texas. I think it brings good luck to those in Colorado….. :-D

    Like

  5. Astonishing! I always assumed that song had long since gone into public domain… When it comes to copyright, of course, one must NEVER assume.

    J M Barrie donated the royalties to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1929. It expired in 1987 but has since been renewed. And good on them. We cannot begrudge money that goes to the benefit of sick children.

    Happy November birthday to you & family! Mine’s Halloween (still Scorpio! :-))

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      Happy belated birthday Matthew! I haven’t “seen” you in a while and I am glad you stopped by!
      Copyright is something very few would have had to be aware of, but the internet has changed all of that! YouTube is pretty strict about what music a person uses.
      I am trying to be very careful and will try to keep my birthday songs off Youtube!

      Like

  6. Yes, I did know that the Happy Birthday song was copyrighted and protected. I know a bunch of little things (odd things) like that. For instance, did you know that there were three golf balls hit on the moon? Yeah, weird stuff.

    Like

  7. Cayman Thorn says:

    I love funky looking birthday cakes. They’re usually the most delicious bites of goodness on all points.

    Like

  8. Wow! Interesting stuff. When researching I will no loger use Wikipedia as my first selection. Instead I will go directly to the Susie Lindau blog. All my questions will be answered, whether they be truth or completely fabricated by Ms. Susie Lindau herself, I will have answers.

    My niece and my mom both have birthdays in November. All of those Valentine’s day conceptions bursting into the world I guess.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      I love you Patricia and almost spat out my wine as I read this. Hahaha! Still laughing….I am such a reliable source!
      I blame it on Valentine’s day too.
      Thanks so much for coming by with your witty sense of humor. You made my day!

      Like

  9. Happy Birthday to all the folks in your life! I actually knew that about the Happy Birthday song being owned, but I had no idea how much it made in a year.

    My favorite restaurant birthday song ever sung to me was this, “Happy Happy Birthday, this song is very short!”

    Like

  10. tedstrutz says:

    Protected from what? It’s the most sung song ever… I would love to hear you sing it.

    Saying Hi to Doug today…

    Like

  11. Katie Glenn says:

    It’s strange the things that are copywritten, did you know the term “urban homestead/ing” is copywritten? Strange stuff.

    And happy birthday to the other November babies this month!! :)

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      That is so weird. How do they enforce it? Urban homesteading urban homesteading urban homesteading. I wonder if the urban homesteading police will hunt me down now! Hahaha!
      I will send your wishes! Is it your birthday month? :)

      Like

  12. Who knew? So if I don’t bake my kids a cake…

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      You can sing it, just don’t accept money for your vocals.
      Your kids would probably bake their own! I can just imagine the kitchen. Hahaha!
      I don’t think the copyright laws are enforced in Canada. Pretty cool eh?

      Like

  13. Happy Birthday Patty, Danny, Marilyn and.. darn, I was trying to remember then all.. scrolling up… and Kelly! You had me on the Irish smoke bit.. I have to say that was a let down, being Irish and all ;D

    Like

  14. Learned a tonne of things I didn’t know today. There should be a law against copyrighting those kinds of songs and ruining all the fun! Anyway, my Mum & her twin celebrated yesterday, with various others, so I guess November is worldwide. Many happy returns to your family…

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      It must be the month to celebrate birthdays!
      It is crazy how well known the song is and yet the copyright was purchased so they have the rights to sue here in the States.
      I would love to find out who pays for Marilyn Monroe’s rendition. I haven’t been able to find anything on her sexy song to JFK…
      Finding out stuff like this makes me wonder what else I don’t know!
      Thanks Alarna!

      Like

  15. John says:

    What a history lesson! And happy birthday to the birthday folks. :)

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      I was so surprised when I researched it. How crazy is that! I always wondered about the Happy Birthday song and why they chose For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow instead. Now I know!
      Thanks John! I will pass your birthday wishes along!

      Like

  16. Wow! I always wondered why the birthday songs at the restaurants weren’t traditional..now I know! My sister is the 4th and mom is the 16th, but our big month is February with a whopping 7 birthdays and 2 anniversaries..it’s exhausting.

    Like

  17. Woah. I had no idea! Regardless, I’d love to have some of that cake. ;) Happy birthday week!

    Like

  18. Janet says:

    Ah, the things I learn on the internet. Thanks Susie.

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      This was a Wild One for me! Who knew? I remember being in a restaurant long ago and asked if the wait staff would sing Happy Birthday. They refused. Now I know why!
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  19. Rohini says:

    Happy birthday to the Lindau family!
    Interesting post on the birthday traditions…I am glad I stopped by..I am suffering from a case of post birthday blues (mine was on 10th). Interestingly, most of my family is the same day too- an aunt, her twin kids, a second cousin, a niece, some friends.
    My theory is November is 9 months from Valentines- that explains why it is a big month for birthdays!

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      I agree and looked it up! I thought that November was THE month for birthdays but I read that according to the census, it is earlier in the year that most babies are born.
      Maybe that has changed. I sure know a lot of November birthdays.

      You have to share yours with sooooo many. I would just party for the whole month!

      I will “sing” the Happy Birthday song to you.
      Happy Birthday to you,
      Happy Birthday to you.
      Happy Birthday dear Rohini who should still be celebrating….
      Happy Birthday to you!

      Like

  20. We have six birthdays from Nov. 22 through Jan 17. Maybe we will skip the singing and concentrate even more on the cake.

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      That is a lot of celebrating! And one on Thanksgiving day too!
      Sing all you like! As long as you aren’t in a band or restaurant business and sing for your customers. :) I always concentrate on the cake! Hahaha!
      Thanks for stopping by for a “slice!”

      Like

  21. Okay, this is crazy. As my brother would say, capitalism on sterioids! I will be very careful where I sing Happy Birthday from now on, or other songs for that matter. Of course, as bad as my voice is, the copyright holders would probably pay me to shut up! LOL

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      Hahaha! I think most everyone will be okay, it’s when a video goes viral or someone gets paid for the song that it may get sticky.
      I wonder who gets the royalties for the video of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday.. FSOG turned up nothing but crickets!
      Thanks for stopping by Kassandra!
      Now you can see where a lot of my time is going! :)

      Like

  22. Yes, I did know that the birthday song is copyright protected. I covered that on LA in May 2011 and was as outraged as you are now proving once again that kindred spirits think alike Susie. My sidekick, Greg, is a musician. We shot a video of him playing it free-jazz style that’s posted on YouTube and embedded in LA. It’s had over 12,000 views. If you want to check it out, I also have it embedded on my About page. I expect Time Warner to send their goon squad after us any day now. I hope your quartet of b-day celebrants all have a great day.

    Like

  23. Coleen Patrick says:

    I remember hearing this mentioned on a talk show a few years ago. I thought it was a joke at first. Michael Jackson, The Beatles, I get that they want to be paid. I would’ve never considered happy birthday. So odd.
    I will be careful about where we sing it to my husband this week!:)

    Like

  24. Susie, I remember from last year that you had tons of November birthdays. Mine falls right in there on the 18th. So that means at everybody was getting busy in February. I hope you have a great week eating cake and celebrating everybody’s birthdays. Cool information about the birthday song. I actually have my own little birthday song that I kind of made/borrowed from one of my friends. She started singing it years ago as she thought the traditional song was waaay too somber. Maybe I will blog it and sing it. Or maybe that is weird. :)

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU Renee!
      Must be all those Valentine’s Day babies!
      You should definitely YouTube it! Maybe it will explode and go viral since we all need alternatives and then you could copyright it and Warner Music could buy the rights and you could be a bazillionairess!
      Thanks Renee!

      Like

  25. CC MacKenzie says:

    We had the last birthday of 2012 last Friday. My daughter’s and since she loves chocolate it was the biggest chocolate cake. Should have taken a photo, unfortunately it was scoffed before I thought of it.

    Great post – and who knew????

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      I love chocolate cake and will have to make one this week for my son! This is our crazy month going into Thanksgiving on the 22nd then Christmas with my daughter Courtney’s on the 28th!
      Thanks! I had no idea either and the law may be enforced differently there in England, but here restaurants don’t sing it.
      I think we should make up our own Happy Birthday song! Maybe I should run a contest and then pitch the winner to Warner Music!

      Like

  26. Debra Kristi says:

    Wow! Who knew? I guess you did. That was some pretty interesting info on the birthday song. I never even realized we don’t hear the song much, but you’re right. How funny. Happy birthday to all the celebrating Lindaus!

    Like

  27. Laughing about your comment about getting your kids to Laser Storm on time – oh, the weighty responsibilities of the 21st century parent :)

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      Hahaha! I know and most went out of business with the 2008 crash. There is only one in the area, out in Westminster!
      We usually did outings for the kids birthdays and that was always my worst fear- that we would be late for our own party!
      I can’t imagine worrying about evil spirits too!
      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  28. Jay Holmes says:

    Hi Susie. Forgive me for making the middle ages that much grimmer but chocolate is a new world phenomena. My guess would be that the early Germans used honey and perhaps some nuts to make a passable confection. If their recipes didn’t survive it’s only because they were surpassed by everything chocolate.

    In my childhood I was able to go to German bakeries. To keep myself entertained I alternated between German and Italian bakeries. In my mind I can still smell those heavenly aromas. These days I live in the Southwest. If I want a decent baked product it has to be created in my own oven.

    IMPORTANT NOTE to young boys living on the Northeast coast. If you can find a German or Italian bakery walk in and tell the oldest (NOT the youngest) female attendant that she has beautiful eyes. It will get you one free cookie every time you go in.

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      Wikipedia did state the nut and honey combo, but it occurred to me to joke that someone may have made the more luscious treat. I didn’t know that Holmes! Thanks for the eye opener about chocolate!

      There aren’t any decent bakeries out in the Boulder area because of the high altitude. The only one that is pretty darn good, is in Breckenridge of all places – almost 9,000 feet in altitude!
      I love to bake too and just make the adjustments.

      That is hilarious about the free cookie! It would be worth a try!
      Thanks for coming by and congrats again on being Freshly Pressed last week!

      Like

  29. I read that awhile ago and some how I feel sorry for Patty and Mildred Hill. I vision them much like the spinster sisters in The Waltons getting screwed over. Maybe they had still in the back too for some good tonic after they lost out.:)
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOUR FAMILY. HUGGGGGGGGGG

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      I don’t think the Hill’s tune was very original. The girls ripped it off from some songs earlier in the century! :)
      I bet they would be bummed that they didn’t come up with the lyrics Happy Birthday to You. They would probably say, “We thought of it, but never got around to the copyright!” Instead they copyrighted Good Morning to You!
      Copyright it so tricky! I don’t know how they decide whether something has been tweaked enough to call it original..
      Thanks Linda! I will pass along your Happy Birthday wishes!

      Like

  30. Nice post…(so the older you get, the more devilish lurkers lurk around? – So more candles, more candles?)
    Thanks for the giggles

    Like

  31. mcolmo says:

    Everything is copyrighted, especially these days. Just make sure Disney is not around or they may sue you if they hear you singing any of their songs… :-)

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      They might! Hahaha! It is getting crazy and it seems everyone is “lawyering up” so I will be careful! As it is, when I make a YouTube video, I either use my son’s music or make sure it is copyright-free! YouTube has a checking method and will send a notice that the music is protected.
      Thanks M!

      Like

  32. Ned's Blog says:

    I am currently working on a copyright to the musical phrase. “…and many more,” which is often added at the end. Just want to get my piece of the pie … er, cake ;)

    Like

  33. Interesting what you can discover when you dig a bit. I also have tons of b-day celebrations in November: my mom, 2 sisters, 2 brothers, and my uncle. How could they all be born the same month?!

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      It is a crazy birthday month! When I looked it up, August and September had the most births, but not in my household either! Happy birthday to your family members Cecile!
      My daughter’s boyfriend’s family all have birthdays in January! Hers is December 28th!
      Thanks for coming by and have a spectacular week!

      Like

  34. The things you can find when your mind says, “how did that occasion start?” Great post, I’ve wondered where the candles came from since I was little, but it’s one of those things if I don’t look while I’m thinking about it I won’t look.

    Great post!

    Like

  35. gardenlilie says:

    I had no idea!!! Should I take a copyright course? This scares me for my writing…I want to write about anything but maybe I do need some instruction so I don’t get into trouble. Basically you can mention title just not lyrics or repeat them in song manner, correct?! Someday their will be so many things we can’t say because someone holds the rights, then we will be mute. Happy Bday to you n yours! Mine is the 23rd n my sons is the 21st of November. Yeah!

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      Happy birthday to both of you!
      I think it is in “performing” Happy Birthday that the trouble arises. I think you mention it or write about it.
      I used to love perusing Google images for photos to use on my blog. Things changed pretty suddenly and now most of my images are my own.
      I think as long as the work is cited in the book somewhere, you are okay. There was no mention of the use of the song’s lyrics in books…if the Happy Birthday song was in Fifty Shades of Grey, the phone may have rung!
      Thanks Lilie and congrats on your publication!

      Like

  36. Happy Birthday to the Lindaus what a fun few weeks! I can’t believe it is copyrighted. They sing it to patrons of restaurants all the time. How interesting. That Europe one is creepy, the weirdos lol.

    Like

  37. Happy Birthday congratulations all around to the members of your family! :-) Fun and informative post about the history of birthday celebrations, but the whole deal about the Happy Birthday song made me angry. The people at Warner Music responsible for perpetrating this outrage should be exposed and publicly shamed on a daily basis, since it’s so glaringly obvious that they have no shame for their crass and needless commercialization of the Happy Birthday song. A song that should be used freely to make young children, senior citizens and everyone in between happy – without the threat of being sued by disgusting pigs disguised as human beings.

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      I think most music is copyrighted.

      WB paid $15 million for it. So the composer’s foundation benefited.
      It is protected under another law in Europe which expires 70 years after the death of the composer which is in 2016.

      One of my friend’s blog posts recently went viral, but someone else took credit for it!
      We live in crazy times where everything has become accessible and people profit off other’s creativity every day.
      Thanks Chris and I will pass your Happy Birthday wishes along!

      Like

      • Hey there, Susie. Just want to you know that I still like you, and I still admire your talent and your ability to be entertaining and amusing. It’s not you that I have a problem with in any way, and I was replying in reaction to a topic that you brought up here on your blog. So please keep that in mind as you read the rest of my comment, and please remember that I still think of you as an online friend, and I hope that you think of me as your friend also.

        Just the fact that WB was able to pay $15 million for it, tells me that WB can afford to stop threatening people at B-day parties for singing it in public, when they are just having fun and not making one single dime of profit that could be going to WB instead.

        WB could also improve their bottom line by no longer paying their lawyers big money to sue people who are no financial threat to WB whatsoever.

        The composers foundation could also benefit from a generous charitable contribution from WB that is tax deductible, but I think there are far more worthy charities that would use such a contribution for things like curing cancer and saving lives.

        Yes, we do live in crazy times, in which the internet has been abused on a massive scale, as a way for people to enjoy the creativity of musicians and other artists for free, in a way that robs these creators of their income. This is wrong on many levels, the worst of which is that it can destroy the ability of the artists to continue creating when they can no longer make a living doing it – except for the musicians who are already famous enough to go on tour and make millions performing their music live in concerts.

        But people getting together and singing Happy Birthday to celebrate the day that someone they like or love was born, in a celebration without any effort to turn a profit, is not harming anyone in any way. It is WB who is doing serious harm when they sue innocent people just for having fun and expressing their love for family and friends in a harmless way that makes people feel happy, appreciated and loved.

        I do feel some sympathy for your friend who had a blog post go viral, and then had someone else take credit for it. In the past, people have ripped off my stuff before, and some of what they stole from me did have some commercial value, but not a lot. So I wasn’t that bothered by it, and all I did was make fun of the unauthorized borrowers in public, and let everyone else know that what they were taking credit for, was really mine.

        But being a guy who has been known to engage in a little too much self admiration at times, what I felt most of all when my original work got ripped off, was feeling flattered. I was flattered that someone else thought what I had done, was good enough that they wanted to put their own name on it. Because imitation really IS the most sincere form of flattery! Lol :-)

        Like

  38. Uh oh! I guess the news hasn’t seeped up across the border because we have a lot of restaurants here where they sing Happy Birthday at the top of their lungs. Shhhhh – please don’t tell anyone! Enjoy your very celebratory November!

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      Canada may be in the copyright free zone! Europe is under a law that expires 70 years after the death of the composer which is 2016. Who knew???
      Thanks Patricia! I will pass along your wishes!

      Like

  39. Happy birthdays! Lucky you, surrounded by Scorpios…we really aren’t as evil as they say….bwahahaha :)

    Like

  40. julesagray says:

    If you ever go into one of those franchise restaurants like Applebee’s or whatever, you’ll notice they never sing “Happy Birthday” to a customer because of that fee. I learned that from a friend who used to manage restaurants.

    Like

  41. vbholmes says:

    Thanks for the warning, Susie–we’ll keep our musical “Happy Birthdays” under wraps from now on.

    Like

  42. zendictive says:

    delightful and informative (*_*)

    Like

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