Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

“Happy Birthday” is now in the public domain

Breaking Bad

Thoughtlessly depriving Aaron Sorkin and numerous podcasters of precious material about the rapacious greed of songwriters Mildred and Patty Hill, a federal judge has ruled that Warner Chappell Music’s copyright on “Happy Birthday” is no longer valid, and that the popular ritual chant is now free for TV stars and teeth-gritted T.G.I.Friday’s employees alike.

Given the legally byzantine hoops that have long-surrounded the 25-note ditty, it seems fitting that Judge George King’s ruling stems not from what might seem like common sense—i.e., that the song is nearly a century old and that everyone involved in writing it is long past caring about either births or days—but from a copyright failure relating to the song’s initial publication. “Because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the ‘Happy Birthday’ lyrics,” King declared, with no regard for how many semi-interesting birthday party conversations he was silencing, “Defendants, as Summy Co.’s purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the ‘Happy Birthday’ lyrics.” And just like that, “Happy Birthday” was freed, depriving Warner of the literal millions of dollars it earned from licensing the song every year, and rendering that one episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force a bitter relic of the past. Sorry, The Egg Of Tyranny: You had a good run.

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