This week, a federal judge in Los Angeles denied a copyright claim for the song ‘Happy Birthday.’
That’s right, for the past 80 years, someone has collected royalties on that little ditty every time the song was used commercially. The most recent ‘owner’ of these rights is Warner Brothers (since 1988).
Puts a few things in perspective, doesn’t it?
For example, why every restaurant chain has its own version of the birthday melody. Companies don’t want to shell-out money when their staff sings the song. This is also why you don’t hear ‘Happy Birthday’ in a lot of movies or tv shows.
Evidently the song has been ‘copyright’ since 1935. Reading about the recent ruling, I could hear a Disney version of the song echoing in the back of my head.
A Little Elephant Is Born
And then it came to me: Dumbo has ‘Happy Birthday’ in it! And not a patched up, Sherman Brothers concoction of it either. This here’s the real deal.
The first song in Dumbo goes ‘Look Out For Mr. Stork,’ but maybe it should be ‘Look Out For Warner Brothers.’
Released in 1941, Dumbo premiered six years after the song was protected under law. I couldn’t find any information as to whether Disney paid for use of the song, but I think it’s likely they did.
Other Disney ‘Happy Birthdays’
On a related note, I did find a few references to Disney paying for use of the song in the old EPCOT Horizons attraction. Nothing concrete, mind you, but interesting nonetheless.
Disney lyricists did compose ‘The Unbirthday Song‘ from Alice in Wonderland. While the phrase itself was coined by Lewis Carroll in 1871, I wonder if the song isn’t a riff not only on ‘Happy Birthday,’ but also the company that held the rights to it.
Kind of like, ‘See, we’ll write our own song and not pay you a thing.’
Now that it looks like ‘Happy Birthday’ will be free again, maybe we’ll hear it more often in the media. I know that scene in Dumbo will have different meaning for me from now on. Thanks for reading and we’ll see ya’ real soon!