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Now Everyone Can Sing 'Happy Birthday' Without Getting Sued

Published On 09/23/2015 Published On 09/23/2015
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Ever wondered why Chili's waiters will only sing you that weird "Happy, happy birthday, blah blah blah, blah" and not the actual "Happy Birthday" song we all know and love? Well, believe it or not, a music publishing company has for decades claimed ownership of the classic song and has made millions of dollars demanding royalties for its use.

The cost and risk of lawsuits has long deterred businesses, filmmakers, artists, and others from performing or using the song outside family birthday celebrations in your mom's kitchen. But on Tuesday, a federal district court judge in Los Angeles ruled that the song in fact belongs to the public domain, which means everyone can sing it for free now -- without the risk of getting sued, according to a report by CNBC. Happy birthday, to everyone?

The judge ruled that the original copyright, filed in 1935 by the Summy Co. and now claimed by Warner Chappell Music, only includes specific piano arrangements and not the song as a whole. The court case was brought against the company, a division of media giant Warner Music Group, back in 2013 by musician Rupa Marya and filmmaker Robert Siegel after they were asked to cough up $1,500 to use the song, according to the report. Filmmaker Steve James paid Warner $5,000 to include the song for just nine seconds in his 1994 documentary, "Hoop Dreams," the Los Angeles Times reported.

A Warner spokesperson said the company is looking at the court's opinion and considering its options, according to the LAT. Meanwhile, Randall Newman, the attorney who represented the filmmakers in the case, told the paper, "'Happy Birthday' is finally free after 80 years. Finally, the charade is over. It's unbelievable." 

Sounds like it's time to blow out some candles.

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Tony Merevick is Cities News Editor at Thrillist and will never forget the last time he was embarrassed in a restaurant for his birthday. Send news tips to news@thrillist.com and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.

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