Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom
We’ve had a few posts about the atrocious & unequal state of copyright in the US already. This one will likely, if you’ll pardon the saying, take the cake. A filmmaker has filed suit to prove that “Happy Birthday to You” is in the public domain after being charged licensing fees by the Warner Music Group, which claims to own the song.
You have got to be fucking kidding me.
Just from that New York Times article, it seems pretty obvious that the song should be in the public domain. The tune was written in the late 19th century, and the music and words were published at least as early as 1924. We can refer to Cornell’s handy copyright chart. There we see that if it can be found that the song was published in 1922 or earlier — just two years before the book shown in the Times article, so entirely possible — then it is definitely in the public domain. If 1924 truly was the first time the song was published, it gets a little hairier but not impossible. If the copyright was not renewed in time — as used to be necessary — then the copyright would have expired and the song is in the public domain. This is quite likely, as, according to Cornell’s site, “A 1961 Copyright Office study found that fewer than 15% of all registered copyrights were renewed. For books, the figure was even lower: 7%.” If it was renewed as needed, then the song will not het become public domain until 2019, and Warner has six more years in which they can demand licensing fees.
Warner probably figures that anyone they demand licensing fees from will do the math and decide to pay the fees rather than spend much more money (and time) on a lawsuit. Which goes to show that the current copyright and intellectual property statutes favor the wealthy, the haves, and corporations. Just in case you were so far unclear on who the legal system tends to serve.
In the meantime, did you know that there are other birthday songs out there? At the last leftist birthday party I attended, we stomped our feet and clapped our hands while loudly chanting “happy birthday” until we tired of it. And in the wilds of Western Massachusetts, especially at contra dances at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, we sing in a round, “We wish you a very merry birthday/A joyous and celebrated birthday/To our dear [name]/May (s)he live a long, long life!”
[In better news, the Supreme Court found on Thursday that “a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and is not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated.” Thank goodness for the Court’s occasional sense.]