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Lawsuit seeks to put 'Happy Birthday' in public domain

Lawsuit seeks to put 'Happy Birthday' in public domain
A New York filmmaker is suing to make the song "Happy Birthday to You" free for everyone. (Karen Schiely / MCT)

A filmmaker is suing to make the song "Happy Birthday to You" free for everyone to use.

The plaintiff, Good Morning to You Productions Corp., a New York-based company that is making a documentary about the song, said it belongs in the public domain.

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Warner/Chappell Music Inc., the publishing arm of Warner Music Group, owns "Happy Birthday to You," meaning it has exclusive rights over the song's reproduction, distribution and public performances.

According to Good Morning to You's class-action lawsuit, filed in New York, the company had to pay Warner/Chappell $1,500 for a license to use the song.

As the 26-page court document notes, the song has a history dating back 120 years.

The tune's origins go back to the 1893 song "Good Morning to All" by sisters Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill.

The lyrics were: "Good morning to you / Good morning to you / Good morning dear children / Good morning to all."

That song eventually evolved into "Happy Birthday."

The suit aims to return "millions of dollars" in licensing fees from Warner/Chappell to thousand of people and groups that have paid the company to use the song.

Until that happens, be careful at your next birthday party.

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