“Happy Birthday To You”: The Celebratory Song With the Complex Legal History

By | February 21, 2019

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Source: (chicagoparent.com)

Finally, in 2015, more than 90 years after it was first published, the song everyone sings before blowing out their birthday candles, the ditty “Happy Birthday To You,” entered the public domain. Now we will begin to see the birthday song being sung in movie and television scenes, something that was strictly forbidden without the proper authorization before. In fact, the sisters who penned the simple song kept such tight control over their creation that “Happy Birthday To You” turned into one of the highest-grossing songs of all time. Here is a look at the complex legal history of the happy little birthday song. 

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Mildred and Patty Hill. Source: (usatoday.com)

The Hill Sisters

Patty and Mildred Hill were sisters who both taught school. In 1893, they wrote a simple little ditty to welcome their students into class every morning. It was essentially the same tune as “Happy Birthday To You” but the lyrics were “Good Morning to All”. It took nearly two more decades before the sisters tweaked the lyrics to say “Happy Birthday To You.” It took even longer…until 1924…for the song to be published. That’s when the legal trouble began.