When you sing "Happy Birthday to You" with your friends and family, you don't have to write a $1,500 check to music publisher Warner/Chappell, says Benjamin Weiser in The New York Times. But if you want to put the iconic song into your cinematic masterpiece, you have to fork over thousands of dollars. On Thursday, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson sued to stop Warner Music Group from cashing in on the world's most-performed song. And she wants Warner/Chappell to return the licensing fee she and every other artist has paid them for the song over the past four years. Here's an excerpt.
The lawsuit notes that in the late 1800s, two sisters, Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill, wrote a song with the same melody called "Good Morning to All." The suit tracks that song's evolution into the familiar birthday song, and its ownership over more than a century.
But although Warner/Chappell claims ownership of "Happy Birthday to You," the song was "just a public adaptation" of the original song, one of Ms. Nelson's lawyers, Mark C. Rifkin, said in a phone interview. "It's a song created by the public, it belongs to the public, and it needs to go back to the public."