The next time Whidbey Islanders celebrate a birthday in a public place, they can now feel free to sing the “Happy Birthday” song.
Although everyone has sung the song at home for as long as we can remember, “Happy Birthday to You” couldn’t be sung as written in restaurants, in movies, on television or anyplace public because of copyright laws. But thanks to a ruling by a federal judge on this week the song is now in the public domain.
“Even though we have a couple of our own birthday songs, we don’t really sing them,” said Bernie Roggen, a manager at the Applebee’s restaurant in Oak Harbor. “Maybe it will make it easier now that we can just sing the regular one.”
U.S. District Judge George H. King ruled Sept. 23 that the song’s original copyright only pertained to specific piano arrangements and not the lyrics and the basic melody, which means restaurants will no longer be forced to come up with their own birthday jingles to avoid having to pay a fee.
Long-time Whidbey Island manager and server Jeannie Lupien remembers singing a Spanish birthday song to guests when she worked at El Cazador – song they still sing today. But, Lupien said El Cazador’s song has authentic charm compared to the “cheesy” songs developed by other restaurants in place of the “Happy Birthday” song.
“People love it,” Lupien said.
The ruling could also mean that Warner/Chappell, who owned the copyright, may be forced to repay money it has collected over the years for the use of the song, USA Today reports. Warner/Chappell said it only collected fees from those who used “Happy Birthday to You” in a commercial endeavor. The company may still decide to appeal the judge’s decision.
The song was originally written by sisters Mildred and Patty Hill in 1893. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the song’s lyrics are the most famous in the English language.