Happy Birthday to You

"Happy Birthday to You", also known as "Happy Birthday", is a song traditionally sung to celebrate a person's birthday. According to the 1998 Guinness World Records, it is the most recognised song in the English language, followed by "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow". The song's base lyrics have been translated into at least 18 languages.[1] The melody of "Happy Birthday to You" comes from the song "Good Morning to All",[2] which has traditionally been attributed to American sisters Patty and Mildred J. Hill in 1893,[3][4] although the claim that the sisters composed the tune is disputed.[5]

"Happy Birthday to You"
Birthday candles.jpg
Candles spelling "Happy Birthday", one of many types of birthday cake decorations that accompany this song
Published1893 by Clayton F. Summy
Songwriter(s)Patty Hill, Mildred J. Hill (disputed)
"Happy Birthday to You" song melody

The song is in the public domain in the United States and the European Union. Warner Chappell Music had previously claimed copyright on the song in the US and collected licensing fees for its use; in 2015 the copyright claim was declared invalid and Warner Chappell agreed to pay back $14 million in licensing fees.


Patty Hill was a kindergarten principal in Louisville, Kentucky developing various teaching methods at the Little Loomhouse,[6] and her sister Mildred was a pianist and composer.[7] The sisters used "Good Morning to All" as a song that young children would find easy to sing.[8] The combination of melody and lyrics in "Happy Birthday to You" first appeared in print in 1912.[9] None of the early appearances of the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics included credits or copyright notices. The Summy Company registered a copyright in 1935, crediting authors Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R. R. Forman. In 1988, Warner/Chappell Music purchased the company owning the copyright for US$25 million, with the value of "Happy Birthday" estimated at US$5 million.[10][11] Warner claimed that the United States copyright would not expire until 2030, and that unauthorized public performances of the song are illegal unless royalties are paid. In February 2010, the royalty for a single use was US$700.[12] By one estimate, the song is the highest-earning single song in history.[13] In the European Union, the copyright for the song expired on January 1, 2017.[14]

The American copyright status of "Happy Birthday to You" began to draw more attention with the passage of the Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998. The Supreme Court upheld the Act in Eldred v. Ashcroft in 2003, and Associate Justice Stephen Breyer specifically mentioned "Happy Birthday to You" in his dissenting opinion.[15] American law professor Robert Brauneis extensively researched the song and concluded in 2010 that "it is almost certainly no longer under copyright."[16] Good Morning to You Productions sued Warner/Chappell for falsely claiming copyright to the song in 2013.[5][10] In September 2015, a federal judge declared that the Warner/Chappell copyright claim was invalid, ruling that the copyright registration applied only to a specific piano arrangement of the song and not to its lyrics and melody. In 2016, Warner/Chappell settled for $14 million, and the court declared that "Happy Birthday to You" is in the public domain.[17][18]


"Happy birthday to you"

The person whose birthday is being celebrated is filled in for "[NAME]".[19]

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday, dear [NAME]
Happy birthday to you.

Since the syllable lengths and scansion of people's names may vary, the measure that includes the [NAME] invocation is traditionally notated with a fermata to adapt the meter; however, Vi Hart asserts that this should not be interpreted to be timed ad libitum but rather as an additional full beat in that measure.[20]

Lyrics with melody


Traditional variations

It is traditional, among English-speakers, that at a birthday party, the song "Happy Birthday to You" be sung to the birthday person by the other guests celebrating the birthday, often when presented with a birthday cake. After the song is sung, party guests sometimes add wishes like "and many more!" expressing the hope that the birthday person will enjoy a long life. In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, immediately after "Happy Birthday" has been sung, it is traditional for one of the guests to lead with "Hip hip ..." and then for all of the other guests to join in and say "... hooray!" This is normally repeated for a total of three times.[citation needed]

In regions of America and Canada, especially at young children's birthdays, immediately after "Happy Birthday" has been sung, it is not uncommon for the singers segue into "How old are you now? How old are you now? How old are you now-ow, how old are you now?"[citation needed] and then count up: "Are you one? Are you two? Are you ..." until they reach the right age or often, instead of counting, “and many more!” for those who are older.[21][22]

Copyright status

The public domain song "Good-Morning to All"
Instrumental version of "Good Morning to All"
Music and lyrics of the song "Good Morning to All", with third verse "Happy Birthday to You", printed in 1912 in Beginners book of Songs with instructions
Music and lyrics of the song "Good Morning to All", with third verse "Happy Birthday to You", printed in 1915 in Golden Book of Favorite Songs

The music and lyrics are in the public domain in the European Union and the United States. The copyright expired in the European Union on January 1, 2017.[23] A U.S. federal court ruled in 2016 that Warner and Chappell's copyright claim was invalid and there was no other claim to copyright.[18]

"Happy Birthday to You" dates from the late 19th century, when sisters Patty and Mildred J. Hill introduced the song "Good Morning to All" to Patty's kindergarten class in Kentucky.[10] They published the tune in their 1893 songbook Song Stories for the Kindergarten with Chicago publisher Clayton F. Summy. Kembrew McLeod stated that the Hill sisters likely copied the tune and lyrical idea from other popular and similar nineteenth-century songs, including Horace Waters' "Happy Greetings to All", "Good Night to You All" also from 1858, "A Happy New Year to All" from 1875, and "A Happy Greeting to All", published 1885. However, U.S. law professor Robert Brauneis disputes this, noting that these earlier songs had quite different melodies.[24]

The complete text of "Happy Birthday to You" first appeared in print as the final four lines of Edith Goodyear Alger's poem "Roy's Birthday", published in A Primer of Work and Play, copyrighted by D. C. Heath in 1901, with no reference to the words being sung.[25] The first book including "Happy Birthday" lyrics set to the tune of "Good Morning to All" that bears a date of publication is from 1911 in The Elementary Worker and His Work, but earlier references exist to a song called "Happy Birthday to You", including an article from 1901 in the Inland Educator and Indiana School Journal.[26] In 1924, Robert Coleman included "Good Morning to All" in a songbook with the birthday lyrics as a second verse. Coleman also published "Happy Birthday" in The American Hymnal in 1933. Children's Praise and Worship published the song in 1928, edited by Byers, Byrum, and Koglin.[citation needed]

The Summy Company, publisher of "Good Morning to All", copyrighted piano arrangements by Preston Ware Orem and a second verse by Mrs. R. R. Forman.[27][28] This served as the legal basis for claiming that Summy Company legally registered the copyright for the song, as well as the later renewal of these copyrights.[29] A 2015 lawsuit found this claim baseless.[citation needed]

Summy Company became the Summy-Birchard Company in 1957, and this became a division of Birch Tree Group Limited in 1970. Warner/Chappell Music acquired Birch Tree Group Limited in 1988 for US$25 million.[10][11] The company continued to insist that one cannot sing the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics for profit without paying royalties; in 2008, Warner collected about US$5,000 per day (US$2 million per year) in royalties for the song.[30] Warner/Chappell claimed copyright for every use in film, television, radio, and anywhere open to the public, and for any group where a substantial number of those in attendance were not family or friends of the performer. Brauneis cited problems with the song's authorship and the notice and renewal of the copyright, and concluded: "It is almost certainly no longer under copyright."[3][16]

In the European Union, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. Patty Hill died in 1946 as the last surviving author, so the copyright expired in these countries on January 1, 2017.[23]

2013 lawsuit

On June 13, 2013, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson filed a putative class action suit in federal court for the Southern District of New York against Warner/Chappell in the name of her production company Good Morning to You Productions.[5] She had paid US$1,500 to secure the rights as part of a documentary that she was making about the song and its history. Her complaint relied heavily on Brauneis's research, seeking the return of her money and all royalties collected by the company from other filmmakers since 2009.[10][31][32] A week later, Rupa Marya v. Warner Chappell Music Inc was filed in the Central District of California.[33] Five weeks later, Nelson refiled the case there,[34] and the cases were combined.[35][36][37] In April 2014, Warner's motion to dismiss had been denied without prejudice, and discovery began under an agreed plan with respect to Claim One, declaratory judgment as to whether "Happy Birthday to You" is in the public domain. The court was expected to rule on the motion for summary judgment as to the merits issues on Claim One.[38] A jury trial was requested.[39]

Nelson's attorneys Betsy Manifold and Mark Rifkin presented new evidence on July 28, 2015, one day before a scheduled ruling, which they argued was conclusive proof that the song was in the public domain, "thus making it unnecessary for the Court to decide the scope or validity of the disputed copyrights, much less whether Patty Hill abandoned any copyright she may have had to the lyrics". They had been given access to documents previously held back from them by Warner/Chappell, which included a copy of the 15th edition of The Everyday Song Book published in 1927. The book contained "Good Morning and Happy Birthday", but the copy was blurry, obscuring a line of text below the title. Manifold and Rifkin located a clearer copy of an edition published in 1922 that also contained the "Happy Birthday" lyrics. The previously obscured line was revealed to be the credit "Special permission through courtesy of The Clayton F Summy Co.". Manifold and Rifkin argued that the music and lyrics were published without a valid copyright notice as was required at the time, so "Happy Birthday" was in the public domain.[40]

Warner/Chappell disputed the evidence, arguing that, unless there was "necessary authorization from the copyright owner", the "Happy Birthday" lyrics and sheet music would still be subject to common law copyright as an unpublished work, and that it was unknown whether the "special permission" from the Summy Company covered "Good Morning to All", "Happy Birthday", or both, thus alleging that the publication in The Everyday Song Book was unauthorized. The company also argued that it was not acting in bad faith in withholding the evidence of the 1927 publication.[41]

On September 22, 2015, federal judge George H. King ruled[19] that the Warner/Chappell copyright claim over the lyrics was invalid.[42][43] The 1935 copyright held by Warner/Chappell applied only to a specific piano arrangement of the song, not the lyrics or melody.[44] The court held that the question of whether the 1922 and 1927 publications were authorized, thus placing the song in the public domain, presented questions of fact that would need to be resolved at trial.[19] However, Warner/Chappell had failed to prove that it actually had ever held a copyright to the lyrics, so the court was able to grant summary judgment to the plaintiffs, thus resolving the case.[19]

Some initial news sources characterized the decision as ruling that the song was in the public domain,[44][45] but the decision did not go so far, holding only that Warner/Chappell did not prove they owned the copyright.[42] However, because there are no other claimants to the copyright, and the copyright to the melody long ago expired,[46] the plaintiffs suggested that the song was de facto in the public domain.[42] Also, the judge ruled that the song was not copyrighted by Summy Co., who had written in the song book, "Special permission through courtesy of the Clayton F. Summy Co." Since there was no evidence Summy Co. had copyright on the song, the song is still considered to be in the public domain.[47]

Before the lawsuit, Warner/Chappell had been earning $2 million a year licensing the song for commercial use,[45] with a notable example the $5,000 paid by the filmmakers of the 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams[48] in order to safely distribute the film.[49] On February 8, 2016, Warner/Chappell agreed to pay a settlement of $14 million to those who had licensed the song, and would allow a final judgment declaring the song to be in the public domain, with a final hearing scheduled in March 2016.[50][51] On June 28, 2016, the final settlement was officially granted and the court declared that the song was in the public domain.[18] The following week, Nelson's short-form documentary Happy Birthday: My Campaign to Liberate the People's Song was published online by The Guardian.[52]

In the wake of their success, the lawyers involved in the "Happy Birthday" lawsuit filed similar lawsuits regarding "We Shall Overcome"[53] and "This Land Is Your Land".[54]

Public performances

One of the most famous performances of "Happy Birthday to You" was Marilyn Monroe's rendition to U.S. President John F. Kennedy in May 1962. Another notable use was by comedy pianist Victor Borge, who played the song in styles of various composers,[55] or would begin playing Moonlight Sonata, smoothly transitioning into the song.[56]

The Beatles recorded "Happy Birthday Dear Saturday Club" for the BBC's radio programme's fifth anniversary. This recording is included on the compilation album On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2, released in 2013.[57]

In a 1998 episode of the television show Sports Night, "Intellectual Property", character Dan Rydell sings the song to his co-anchor during a telecast, forcing his network to pay royalties, and causing him to ask his colleagues to choose public-domain songs for him to sing for their birthdays.[58]

In the 1987 documentary Eyes on the Prize about the U.S. civil rights movement, there was a birthday party scene in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s discouragement began to lift. After its initial release, the film was unavailable for sale or broadcast for many years because of the cost of clearing many copyrights, of which "Happy Birthday to You" was one. Grants in 2005 for copyright clearances[59] allowed PBS to rebroadcast the film.[60]

In 2010, the Western classical music conductor Zubin Mehta conducted the orchestra to play variations of "Happy Birthday" in the styles of various Western classical music composers including Wagner, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and in the Viennese, New Orleans and Hungarian composition styles.[61][62]

On August 5, 2013, the first anniversary of its landing on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover celebrated its "birthday" when engineers at Goddard Space Flight Center used the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument to cause the rover to "sing" Happy Birthday on the Martian surface.[63]

During the March 6, 2014 episode of the Comedy Central series The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert attempted to sing the song in honor of the 90th anniversary of its 1924 publication, but was prevented to due to the copyright issues. Colbert instead premiered his new "royalty-free" birthday song – which turns out to be a parody of the United States' national anthem, and ends with the stanza "Warner Music can't sue me, and the home of the brave".[64][65][66]

See also



  1. ^ Brauneis (2010), p. 17.
  2. ^ Hill, Mildred J. (music); Hill, Patty S. (lyrics) (1896). "Good Morning to All". Song Stories for the Kindergarten. Illustrations by Margaret Byers; With an introduction by Anna E. Bryan (New, Revised, Illustrated and Enlarged ed.). Chicago: Clayton F. Summy Co. p. 3.
  3. ^ a b Collins, Paul (July 21, 2011). "You Say It's Your Birthday. Does the Infamous 'Happy Birthday to You' Copyright Hold up to Scrutiny?". Slate. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  4. ^ Originally published in Song Stories for the Kindergarten. Chicago: Clayton F. Summy Co. 1896. as cited by Snyder, Agnes (1972). Dauntless Women in Childhood Education, 1856–1931. Washington, D.C.: Association for Childhood Education International. p. 244.
  5. ^ a b c Masnick, Mike (June 13, 2013). "Lawsuit Filed to Prove Happy Birthday Is in The Public Domain; Demands Warner Pay Back Millions of License Fees". Techdirt.
  6. ^ Clifft, Candice (2007). "Little Loomhouse". Louisville Life Program. Kentucky Educational Television. Archived from the original on August 2, 2009.
  7. ^ Brauneis (2010), p. 7.
  8. ^ Brauneis (2010), p. 14.
  9. ^ Brauneis (2010), pp. 31–32.
  10. ^ a b c d e Weiser, Benjamin (June 13, 2013). "Birthday Song's Copyright Leads to a Lawsuit for the Ages". The New York Times. Retrieved June 14, 2013.
  11. ^ a b "'Happy Birthday' and the Money It Makes". The New York Times. December 26, 1989. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
  12. ^ Williams, Wendy (February 5, 2010). "Transcript". The Wendy Williams Show. Archived from the original on October 9, 2011. Retrieved September 17, 2014.
  13. ^ Mohan, Isabel (December 29, 2012). "The Richest Songs in the World, BBC Four, Review". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved September 23, 2015.
  14. ^ EU countries observe the "life + 70" copyright standard.
  15. ^ 537 US 186, Justice Breyer, dissenting, II, C.
  16. ^ a b Brauneis (2010).
  17. ^ Blistein, Jon (February 9, 2016). "Warner Music Settles 'Happy Birthday' Lawsuit for $14 Million". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
  18. ^ a b c Good Morning to You Productions v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California 2016).Text
  19. ^ a b c d US District Court CA (2015).
  20. ^ Vi Hart (September 25, 2015). Happy "Happy Birthday" Day!. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  21. ^ Lunden, Joan (March 10, 2020). Why Did I Come into This Room?: A Candid Conversation about Aging. Simon and Schuster. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-948677-29-5.
  22. ^ Kimelman, Michael (March 28, 2017). Confessions of a Wall Street Insider: A Cautionary Tale of Rats, Feds, and Banksters. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-5107-1338-3. After an off-key “Happy Birthday” (and the annoying modern-Greenwich additional verses “Are you one? Are you two?”)
  23. ^ a b Balme, Charlie (December 22, 2015). "US Happy Birthday copyright case settles after protracted legal battle". Marks & Clerk. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  24. ^ Brauneis (2010), pp. 12–14.
  25. ^ Feaster, Patrick (June 20, 2014), "Edith Goodyear Alger: Lyricist of 'Happy Birthday to You'?" Griffonage-Dot-Com.
  26. ^ US District Court CA (2015), pp. 3.
  27. ^ Romeo, Dave (2009). Striving for Significance: Life Lessons Learned While Fishing. iUniverse. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-4401-2213-2. Retrieved June 14, 2013 – via Google Books.
  28. ^ Russell, Carrie (2004). Complete Copyright: An Everyday Guide for Librarians. American Library Association. p. 15. ISBN 9780838935439. Retrieved June 14, 2013 – via Google Books.
  29. ^ Brauneis (2010), p. 25
  30. ^ Brauneis (2010), pp. 4, 68.
  31. ^ "'Happy Birthday to You' Belongs to Everyone: Lawsuit". New York Post.
  32. ^ "Class Action Complaint: Good Morning to You Productions v. Warner/Chappell Music". June 13, 2013 – via Scribd.com.
  33. ^ "Case docket: Rupa Marya v. Warner Chappell Music Inc". archive.org. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  34. ^ Notice of Voluntary Dismissal, Good Morning To You Productions Corp. v. Warner/Chappell Music, Docket No. 1:13-cv-04040 (S.D.N.Y. filed July 26, 2013).
  35. ^ Third Amended Consolidated Complaint, Good Morning to You Productions Corp. v. Warner/Chappell Music, Docket No. 2:13-cv-04460 (C.D. Cal. November 6, 2013).
  36. ^ Masnick, Mike (September 3, 2013). "Warner Music Reprising the Role of the Evil Slayer of the Public Domain, Fights Back Against Happy Birthday Lawsuit". Techdirt.
  37. ^ Johnson, Ted (October 7, 2013). "Court Keeps Candles Lit on Dispute Over 'Happy Birthday' Copyright". Variety.
  38. ^ Dkt. 89 (Joint Report Rule 26(f) Discovery Plan)
  39. ^ Amended Complaint, Dkt. 75.
  40. ^ "'Happy Birthday' Lawsuit: 'Smoking Gun' Emerges in Bid to Free World's Most Popular Song". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 28, 2015.
  41. ^ "Warner Lawyers: 1922 Songbook with 'Happy Birthday' Lyrics Wasn't 'Authorized'". Ars Technica. July 29, 2015. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  42. ^ a b c Mai-Duc, Christine (September 22, 2015). "'Happy Birthday' Song Copyright Is Not Valid, Judge Rules". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  43. ^ Gardner, Eriq (September 22, 2015). "'Happy Birthday' Copyright Ruled to Be Invalid". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 23, 2015.
  44. ^ a b Hunt, Elle (September 23, 2015). "Happy Birthday Ruled Public Domain as Judge Throws out Copyright Claim". The Guardian. London. Retrieved September 23, 2015.
  45. ^ a b Calamur, Krishnadev (September 22, 2015). "Unchained Melody". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 23, 2015.
  46. ^ US District Court CA (2015), pp. 14–16.
  47. ^ Mai-Duc, Christine (September 23, 2015). "Filmmaker Picks a Fight with a Corporate Giant and Sets 'Happy Birthday' Free". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  48. ^ Quinn, Gordon (May 8, 2009). "Truth and Consequences". On the Media (Transcript). Interviewed by Bob Garfield. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  49. ^ "'Happy Birthday', 'Hoop Dreams', and the Fight for Fair Use". Kartemquin Films. September 22, 2015. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  50. ^ Gardner, Eriq (February 9, 2016). "Warner Music Pays $14 Million to End 'Happy Birthday' Copyright Lawsuit". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
  51. ^ "Happy Birthday: Warner Offers up to $14M to Settle Copyright Dispute". CBC News. February 9, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
  52. ^ "Documentary About Freeing Happy Birthday From Copyfraud Comes Out The Day After Happy Birthday Officially Declared Public Domain". Techdirt. July 5, 2016. Retrieved July 13, 2016.
  53. ^ "'Happy Birthday' Legal Team Turns Attention to 'We Shall Overcome'". Billboard. April 12, 2016. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  54. ^ Farivar, Cyrus (June 18, 2016). "Lawyers who yanked 'Happy Birthday' into public domain now sue over 'This Land'". Ars Technica. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  55. ^ Higham, Nick (December 24, 2000). "Victor Borge: The Great Dane". BBC News. Retrieved April 5, 2012.
  56. ^ Logan, Brian (March 14, 2012). "Rainer Hersch's Victor Borge". The Guardian (Review). London. Retrieved April 5, 2012.
  57. ^ "On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2". September 12, 2013.
  58. ^ "Sports Night "Intellectual Property" Quotes". imdb.com. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  59. ^ Dean, Katie (August 30, 2005). "Cash Rescues Eyes on the Prize". Wired. Retrieved May 11, 2008.
  60. ^ "PBS News: PBS Celebrates Black History Month with an Extensive Lineup of Special Programming" (Press release). PBS. January 10, 2008. Retrieved May 11, 2008.
  61. ^ "Zubin Mehta, Happy Birthday Variation, Symphony" (Video). Archived from the original on October 30, 2021. Retrieved June 6, 2015 – via You Tube.
  62. ^ "Zubin Mehta Does Variations on 'Happy Birthday'". Best Jon Bon. Archived from the original on October 30, 2021. Retrieved June 6, 2015 – via YouTube.
  63. ^ "Happy Birthday, Curiosity!". NASA. August 4, 2013. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  64. ^ "Stephen Colbert Creates Royalty-Free Alternative to 'Happy Birthday' For 'Happy Birthday's Happy Birthday". Techdirt. March 10, 2014. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
  65. ^ "The Stephen Colbert Audience Experience". Worcester Telegram & Gazette. March 10, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
  66. ^ "Why 'Happy Birthday' will cost you". BBC News. September 15, 2015. Retrieved July 22, 2020.

Works cited

External links