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It's the Birthday Happy Birthday Song Contest
December 14, 2012 7:42 PM   Subscribe

"Free Music Archive and Creative Commons want to dethrone one of the most notoriously copyrighted songs in the world. " [via mefi projects]
posted by aniola (60 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
For the longest time I just thought that people simply enjoyed writing new and different birthday songs for their shows and films.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 7:47 PM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


It can cost independent filmmakers $10,000 to clear the song for their films, and this is a major stumbling block hindering the creation of new works of art.

Um... Isn't the clip reel evidence that avoiding the copyright fee has led to the blossoming of a golden age of new birthday song writing already? Or at least by penny-pinching major Hollywod studios and TV networks.... *cough*
posted by Bwithh at 7:54 PM on December 14, 2012


This is the reason why, if you end up eating at major chain restaurants like Applebee's or Chili's or Red Lobster, when the waitstaff do their little cake and candle parade, they sing some odious made-up chant instead of Happy Birthday. If they sang Happy Birthday, they'd be liable to pay the royalties.

I love sharing this little-known fact.
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on December 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I'm totally doing this. My goal: my birthday song:happy birthday::this song:jingle bells
posted by Huck500 at 7:58 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


MeFi Music Challenge?
posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Makes me almost wish "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" had a similar copyright status...
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:59 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


You betcha, Miko. January, for sure.
posted by unSane at 8:00 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The way most people sing Happy Birthday turns it into a dirge anyway. Melody; some notes are different pitches from others. Try it sometime!

Here's how they sing Happy Birthday at Bennigans (in South Park).
posted by Nelson at 8:01 PM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Happy Birthday song is almost certainly no longer under copyright. Unfortunately no one seems willing to mount a challenge to it, and the owners have a strong interest in maintaining the claim that it is still copyrighted, since it brings in an estimated $2 million in licensing revenue. Robert Brauneis, Copyright and the World's Most Popular Song, 56 J. Copyright Soc'y U.S.A. 335 (2008-2009), available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1111624.

Rather than holding a song contest, I'd rather the Free Music Archive and Creative Commons challenge the validity of the Happy Birthday song's copyright. The evidence and arguments have already been laid out for them.
posted by jedicus at 8:06 PM on December 14, 2012 [43 favorites]


I kind of hate the happy birthday song. I'd welcome a replacement. But still think the copyright of the traditional one should be gutted on principle.
posted by desuetude at 8:09 PM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Of course, there's good evidence that the song is actually no longer under copyright (if it ever was). On the other hand, a good sign that the system is utterly broken is that determining this fact required a determined effort by a GW Law professor, a 69 page paper (highly recommended reading if you're into this sort of thing), and the review of hundreds of unpublished documents from archives scatted across the nation.

And even after all that work, Warner Music still maintains that they are owed money for uses of the song. Dirtbags.
posted by zachlipton at 8:10 PM on December 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


RE: "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" (and its ubiquitousness especially on old sitcoms): Every time I'm at a birthday celebration where "Happy Birthday" is expected to be sung, the initial part where everybody sings "HAAAAAAAA---" and kinda tries to sync up with everyone else, I sing "FOOOOOOOOOR---". It sometimes gets a laugh from someone other than me.
I totally stole this from Tom Scharpling -- which nobody can deny (ad infinitum)!
posted by mean square error at 8:13 PM on December 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Pointless Fact! The Linguistics Society of America was funded for decades by "Happy Birthday." Long-time executive board member Archibald A. Hill donated the royalties for the song, which was written by his maiden aunts, to support the LSA.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:22 PM on December 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I've noticed several chain restaurants in the Columbus, OH area (I won't name names, but these are national restaurants that most would recognize, and not all belonging to the same parent company) that have started using "Happy Birthday" again. I first noticed it about 6 months ago, and wondered if perhaps there had been a legal case won by the restaurant industry.

Now I wonder if certain chain restaurants are actively seeking a lawsuit in order to overturn the ruling, or if they are just paying the royalties....
posted by 1367 at 8:32 PM on December 14, 2012


Master Shake is way ahead of yas on this.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:40 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, there's this site, for people who are outraged by the rampant copyright infringement of "Happy Birthday". It's rampant, and we're outraged!

Right?

Guys? Guys? Guys?
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:54 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think we have to fight this ridiculous copyright thing.

Let's get ready to ruuuuumm...

Hold on, lawyers at my door...
posted by Splunge at 9:08 PM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I kind of hate the happy birthday song. I'd welcome a replacement. But still think the copyright of the traditional one should be gutted on principle.

Yeah, the problem is that nobody is going to start singing a new birthday song. People no longer gather around the upright piano and sing together. Well, most people ... I'm not going to pass out sheet music at my next birthday party and request people sing something else.

I do hate the birthday song, though. It's awful. It's not the best melody for groups of people who normally don't sing. I'd be very happy with a real replacement, but stuff like this gets entrenched the same way language does.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:19 PM on December 14, 2012


What day is today?

It's Nibbler's birthday!

What a day for a birthday!

Now let's all have some cake!
posted by The Whelk at 9:23 PM on December 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Even the friggin Beatles couldn't popularize a new Birthday song. (Though, honestly, the lyric "you say it's your birthday. It's my birthday too, yeah" really limits the domain of applicability of the song to moments when two different people are simultaneously having the same birthday, which, although not generally impossible, pretty much restricts the song to the twins market.)

My family is so afraid of paying ASCAP fees that our children are only permitted to have backwards parties. We always sing "You to Birthday Happy", which avoids the fees (copyright protection only works along the arrow of time, motherfuckers!)
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:27 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, with a group of 23 people, there's a 50% chance two will share a birthday... which still limits the usefulness of the Beatles song.

Stevie Wonder also has a 'Happy Birthday' song he originally wrote to lobby for making Martin Luther King's Birthday a national holiday. The main lyric is way too specific, but the refrain is easy...
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:35 PM on December 14, 2012


For a while, it was a ritual in my family to sing the Applebees birthday song: Happy happy birthday, from Applebee's to you! We wish it was our birthday, so we could party too! We would clap in unison, and laugh, and it was great fun.

Then, just after Timmy's party, we got the cease and desist from Applebees.

Now we celebrate every birthday with a moment of silence, which isn't as much fun.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:29 PM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lisa, it's your birthday!

Happy birthday, Lisa!
posted by The Whelk at 10:31 PM on December 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


My Grandpa used to sing the best birthday song ever, to the tune of the Song of the Volga Boatman. Between each line, the singers would slam their fists onto the table:

Happy Birthday
Oh, happy birthday
Children crying
People dying
Oh, happy birthday

posted by darksasami at 10:31 PM on December 14, 2012 [18 favorites]


Thanks a lot for posting this, aniola. I'm really excited about the contest.

FMA also made this video of different fake birthday songs from movies and TV shows. And they wrote a blog post with more of the history about Happy Birthday to You.

CC is just finishing up a ten-day celebration of our tenth anniversary, hence the birthday song tie-in.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:42 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


My Grandpa used to sing the best birthday song ever, to the tune of the Song of the Volga Boatman.

That could also work well as a wedding song.

Here comes the bride, SLAM!
All dressed in white, SLAM!
Sweetly, serenely
marching to thee,
Sweet love united for eternity.
SLAM!
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:48 PM on December 14, 2012


Also: everyone should listen to the one entry submitted so far. Because it's awesome.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:51 PM on December 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Just put some simple birthday lyrics to the universal abcd twinkle black sheep melody and start singing it to all little kids now. In a few years no one will be singing that bloody happy birthday song.
posted by pracowity at 10:53 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have you ever noticed how all the Christmas songs are really birthday songs for one guy?
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:03 PM on December 14, 2012


Have you ever noticed how all the Christmas songs are really birthday songs for one guy?

Santa, Rudolph, or Frosty?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:45 PM on December 14, 2012


You're the birthday,
You're the birthday,
You're the birthday boy or girl...


Now, the solution to the Happy Birthday problem, obviously, is to take the Jessamyn's FBI Sign approach and conspicuously not sing A Very Merry Unbirthday To You to people on their respective birthdays, instead singing it only to everybody whose birthday it isn't.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:56 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like the old ways and the old songs, so I'm pretty upset about these new versions of the birthday song. And I'm not the first Amish man to speak about this. A lot of us have our doubts about Amos Karnacher. He uses that battery-powered Devil keyboard, and the girls swoon too much.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:13 AM on December 15, 2012


There is Las MaƱanitas, which millions of Americans already sing.
posted by msalt at 12:17 AM on December 15, 2012


Actually, with a group of 23 people, there's a 50% chance two will share a birthday... which still limits the usefulness of the Beatles song.

But the lyric goes "You say it's your birthday... it's my birthday too, yeah". That "it's" says that today is the person's birthday, as well as a second person's. [Although technically-grammatically, the order is second person, then first person.] The 23 person calculation is for two people to share any possible birthday. The two people out of 23 may share July 23rd, but it's December 15th today, so that doesn't help us.

Of course, since the lyric starts by noting that there is already one person present who says it is their birthday, we presumably just need to find a second person whose birthday is also today, yeah. That's a straight 1/365 or so; or a crowd of 184 people for a 50% chance.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:05 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like the police squad version.
posted by leibniz at 1:14 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Happy birthday!
Now you're one year older
Happy birthday!
Your life still isn't over
Happy birthday!
You did not accomplish much
But you didn't die this year
I guess that's good enough


*cue banjo!*

strangely enough listening to this every year cheers me up, because it reminds me I've somehow lived yet another year without accidentally falling down a sinkhole or some nonsense. Huzzah for continued survival!
posted by zennish at 1:43 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always preferred the Weird Al version, myself.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:21 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, with a group of 23 people, there's a 50% chance two will share a birthday...

You say it's your birthday
As we have 253 people gathered here
(And you weren't born on a leap day)
There's a better than 50% chance
That it's somebody else's birthday here too,
Yeah.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:32 AM on December 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


We could start using this song instead. I mean I'm sure it would count as copyrighted too, but I'd prefer it:

Happy Happy Birthday
Happy Happy Birthday
Happy Happy Birthday
Happy Happy Birthday
Happy Happy Birthday
Happy Happy Birthday
Happy Happy Birthday You
posted by dgaicun at 4:43 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sir Richard Cheese has already done this for us: . The track also includes an instrumental portion that can be used.
posted by tribalspice at 5:34 AM on December 15, 2012


My Grandpa used to sing the best birthday song ever, to the tune of the Song of the Volga Boatman.

The Birthday Dirge!
posted by fings at 5:37 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's a straight 1/365 or so; or a crowd of 184 people for a 50% chance.

As Wolfdog subtly pointed out, this is not correct. You'll need a crowd of log(1-p)/log(1-1/365) when p=.5, which is (rounded up) 253 people.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:23 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


"We wish you a happy birthday,
We wish you a happy birthday,
We wish you a happy birthday,
And many to come."
To the tune of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, a 16th century carol, public domain. Everyone already knows the tune and the lyrics can be memorized in three seconds. I donate the lyrics to the world.
Use it as though it was the family tradition all along.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:51 AM on December 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Now bring us some figgy birthday cake.
posted by pracowity at 7:01 AM on December 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nelson: The way most people sing Happy Birthday turns it into a dirge anyway. Melody; some notes are different pitches from others. Try it sometime!

No shit. At least pick up the pace a little. I'm an awful singer, but anytime I'm in a birthday gathering I try to get out ahead of the crowd and set the tempo so that we can finish the damn thing within 5 minutes.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:14 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]




I prefer the They Might Be Giants birthday song.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:48 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whatever gets decided, it must end with "and you smell like one too!"
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:56 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lou Reed is fearless on Berlin.
posted by ovvl at 9:02 AM on December 15, 2012


Apparently Youtube fads are working on this.

As a serious contender to replace the song it needs to be simple enough that everyone will remember the words and be able to sing along. The TMBG song, for example, has too many verses and requires someone who can play guitar.
posted by RobotHero at 11:31 AM on December 15, 2012


I don't know if this was answered already, but who exactly do royalties get paid to?
posted by waitangi at 2:24 PM on December 15, 2012


The Birthday Gods. May Happy Be Upon Them.
posted by Splunge at 4:23 PM on December 15, 2012


My friends managed to terrify a restaurant by singing the birthday dirge en masse at a consolidated birthday outing (complete with table thwaps).
posted by Karmakaze at 6:01 PM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does the person who added "Cha cha cha" sometime in the 1990s get royalties, too?
posted by msalt at 11:34 PM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You wouldn't download a birthday.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:18 AM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The odd thing about HBTY is that it's immediately recognisable under any circumstances. I know of one arrangement where an indeterminate number of guitarists play an ugly chord and then move the chord up (as much as they'd like) when the tune goes up and down when the tune goes down, and it's instantly recognisable even when there are as many as twenty guitarists.

Another alternative strategy might be to get as many people as possible to upload to YouTube as many versions as they can with the following lyrics:

AOL Warner, Fuck You!
AOL Warner, Fuck You!
AOL Warner,
AOL Warner,
AOL Warner, Fuck You!

posted by Grangousier at 7:36 AM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's only the lyrics which are (possibly) still under copyright (or not). Just sing one of the playground versions instead.

Happy birthday to you
You live in the zoo
You look like a monkey
And you act like one too

posted by rory at 12:42 PM on December 16, 2012


My fave alt-birthday song is "It's Your Birthday" by The American Music Club. (Not on YT right now).
posted by ovvl at 3:52 PM on December 16, 2012


Happy, happy birthday
posted by zoo at 4:50 AM on December 31, 2012


Just as a bit of follow-up; unSane, as promised, made "New Happy Birthday" a part of the January 2013 Music Challenge.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:04 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


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