Happy Birthday to You

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"Happy Birthday to You", also known more simply as "Happy Birthday", is a song that is traditionally sung to celebrate the anniversary of a person's birth. According to the 1998 Guinness Book of World Records, "Happy Birthday to You" is the most recognized song in the English language, followed by "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and "Auld Lang Syne".[1] The song's base lyrics have been translated into at least 18 languages.[2], p. 17

The melody of "Happy Birthday to You" comes from the song "Good Morning to All", which was written and composed by American siblings Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill in 1893.[3] Patty was a kindergarten principal in Louisville, Kentucky, developing various teaching methods at what is now the Little Loomhouse;[4] Mildred was a pianist and composer.[2], p. 7 The sisters created "Good Morning to All" as a song that would be easy to be sung by young children.[2], p. 14 The combination of melody and lyrics in "Happy Birthday to You" first appeared in print in 1912, and probably existed even earlier.[2], pp. 31–32 None of these early appearances included credits or copyright notices. The Summy Company registered for copyright in 1935, crediting authors Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman. In 1990, Warner Chappell purchased the company owning the copyright for $15 million, with the value of "Happy Birthday" estimated at $5 million.[5] Based on the 1935 copyright registration, Warner claims that the United States copyright will not expire until 2030, and that unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal unless royalties are paid to it. In one specific instance on February 2010, these royalties were said[6] to amount to $700.

In the European Union, the copyright of the song will expire on December 31, 2016.[7]

The actual American copyright status of "Happy Birthday to You" began to draw more attention with the passage of the Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998. When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Act in Eldred v. Ashcroft in 2003, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer specifically mentioned "Happy Birthday to You" in his dissenting opinion.[8] An American law professor who heavily researched the song has expressed strong doubts that it is still under copyright.[2]

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