By Julia Hotz
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear –wait, a second, am I breaking the law? Is singing “Happy Birthday” illegal? If the Concordiensis were to go digital, and this article came out as a televised news report, it would be.
You see, despite being the most well-known song in the English speaking world, it is illegal for the song “Happy Birthday” to be played in a film, television show or YouTube video without proper authorization.
Though it was written and composed by two American sisters in 1893, the song’s copyright belongs to Warner Chappell as of 1990.
This music publishing company, the third-largest in the world, paid 15 million dollars to purchase “Happy Birthday” from its former owners, the Summy Company.
Based on the Summy Company’s 1935 copyright registration for this song, Chappell claims that they can collect royalties for the performance of the song up until 2030.
This is only a small element of the ongoing controversy surrounding the “changing concept of copyright.” Rip!: A Remix Manifesto is an outstanding, highly-entertaining documentary that talks in depth about it.
Director Brett Gaylor explores the legal gray area of mash-ups and remixes that are so prevalent in our generation’s music culture.
His film takes us through the personal accounts of various musicians, authors, activists and anyone who has dealt with copyright laws at some point (including the average illegal-music-downloading folks like you and me … come on, we all do it).
Yet, despite the fact that everyone’s doing it, thousands of harmless Americans, ranging from six-year-olds to senior citizens, are being charged with copyright infringement.
The most jaw-dropping account of this was that of single mother Jammie Thomas, who was successfully sued by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America).
This single mother, working on a salary of less than $40,000 a year, was ordered to pay $222,220 for illegally downloading 24 songs. That’s right, 24.
And you know what one of the plaintiff’s lawyers said to Miss Thomas as they took her for every penny she had? “This is what happens when you don’t settle.”
It blows my mind, really, that our legal system allows such bullying. It also blows my mind that these absurd remix laws exist, and that big companies, such as the Walt Disney Company, get away with suing the average creator for “stealing,” when Walt Disney himself admittedly did the very same thing.
But you know what they say about being the change you want to see in the world. Soon enough, it will be our generation of mash-up loving, remix bumping, illegal downloading kids in political office. And that will bring a better tomorrow, if you ask me.