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Chord progression for Mildred J. Hill's Happy Birthday To You. The melody was composed in 1893. At that time it was called "Good Morning To All".
In 1924, the "Happy Birthday" lyrics were published as a second stanza in a songbook. "Happy Birthday" was popularized via radio and films as a birthday song,supplanting the original lyrics.By the mid-1930s after it had appeared in a Broadway play, had been used in Western Union's first singing telegram, and finally in an Irving Berlin musical, Mildred's sister who administered the copyright, filed suit for infringement. She was able to secure the copyright in 1934.
This copyright is still in force and under current law the tune will not enter the public domain until 2030. Under the copyright law in force at the time it was secured, it should have entered the public domain by 1991. The yearly royalty payments amount to $2 million dollars and are split between the Hill Foundation and a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner. Here's the complete story.
The copyright extension granted by Congress in 1998 is going to cost the public $56,000,000 over the next 28 years assuming today's royalty rates. If you want to sing this outside of a family setting, your hosts have to pay for a performance license that contributes to the $2,000,000 royalty. Many restaurants in the U.S. (and kid's summer camps) cook up an alternative birthday ditty to sing to clients for their birthday celebrations so that they can avoid having to pay ASCAP for a performance license.
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Last update: Sunday, December 29, 2002 at 11:12 AM.