Birthday Celebrations

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The pinnacle of birthday celebrations, if there’s no pi–ata to break open, is when the birthday cake comes out and party attendees serenade the guest of honor. The song everyone harmonizes to is among the most widely recognized and well-loved tunes in the world. The ‘birthday song,’ also known as ‘Happy Birthday to You,’ is in the public domain in the United States and the European Union. The song originally was penned as a classroom greeting song titled ÒGood Morning to All,Ó written by sisters Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill. Both were educators and developed unique teaching strategies to assist students. The song was composed by Mildred and the lyrics were written by Patty to be used in kindergarten classrooms.

It is unclear who changed the lyrics and turned the song into a birthday ditty, as none of the earliest references to the song included credits or copyright notices. Two tales circulate regarding the eventual copyright of the song. One has The Summy Company registering a copyright in 1935, crediting authors Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R. R. Forman. The other says Jessica Hill, sister to Mildred and Patty, who was working with publisher Clayton F. Summy Company, copyrighted and published ÒHappy Birthday to You’ in 1935. Eventually Warner Chappell bought the company that was originally The Summy Company, and argued the birthday song was under copyright until 2030, making performances of the song illegal without paying royalties. However, a federal judge ruled in 2015 that Warner Chappell’s claim to a copyright on the song was not valid. The judge ruled its registration only covered a specific piano version, not the melody and lyrics. Therefore, ‘Happy Birthday to You’ can be sung both privately and publicly without being subject to royalties or other restrictions.