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?

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100 thoughts on “Singing Happy Birthday is Risky Business – $10,000 Worth!

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  1. Wow! I always wondered why the birthday songs at the restaurants weren’t 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’s exhausting.


    1. 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!


  2. 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…


    1. 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!


    1. 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?


  3. 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!! 🙂


    1. 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? 🙂


  4. 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!”


  5. 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


    1. 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!


  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.


  7. 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! :-))


    1. 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!


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