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Happy birthday and monkey selfies – why copyright matters

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Thomas Musick

In September 2015, a California judge ruled that none of the companies claiming ownership of Happy Birthday to You ever had any right to it at all.

The world's most recognised song originally appeared as Good Morning to All, written by Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893.

While that version has been in the public domain for decades, Warner/Chappell music has claimed ownership of the Happy Birthday version since 1988, when it bought the ditty as part of Birch Tree Group's holdings.

That publication deal assigned Summy the copyright of all the songs in the book.

The Summy Company later registered copyright in 1935 for an arrangement of the song with the same music and the now-familiar birthday-themed lyrics, crediting Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R.

Ever since 1935, the Birch Tree Group -- and later Warner -- insisted on royalty payments for all performances of the song for business purposes, from waiters serenading customers to musical greetings cards and TV and film use.

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Thomas Musick
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