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A short history of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song

‘The Everyday Song Book’ (1922)

A 1922 copy of “The Everyday Song Book,” containing lyrics to “Happy Birthday,” was part of litigation to free the often used song from copyright claims because it was published -- sans copyright notice -- before it was registered with the copyright office in 1935.

(Christine Mai-Duc / Los Angeles Times)

In a stunning reversal of decades of copyright claims, a Los Angeles judge ruled that none of the companies that have collected royalties on the “Happy Birthday” song for thelast 80 years held a valid copyright claim to one of the most popular songs in history.

Read more: All the 'Happy Birthday' song copyright claims are invalid, federal judge rules

1893

Louisville, Ky., sisters Mildred J. and Patty Smith Hill publish the song "Good Morning To All" and assign copyright to the publisher.


1934

The producer of the Irving Berlin musical revue “As Thousands Cheer” sue for plagiarism when the song’s melody is used in a scene. The lawsuit is eventually settled.


1935

The Clayton F. Summy Co. files for the copyright.


1962

Marilyn Monroe sings “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to President John F. Kennedy at a celebration of his 45th birthday.


1988

The successor to the Summy Co., the Birch Tree Group, is purchased by Warner Music for $15 million, and through that acquires the rights to "Happy Birthday."


2015

Los Angeles Judge George H. King rules that the Summy Co. never acquired a valid copyright to the song, and that the 1935 copyright covered only specific piano arrangements of the tune.

Sources: Image of Irving Berlin from Los Angeles Times archive/UCLA, U.S. District Court Opinion, Judge George H. King.

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