Happy Birthday is an American song to celebrate the anniversary of a person's birth. Non-English speakers have translated it into other languages.

The melody of "Happy Birthday" was written by American sisters Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893 when they were school teachers in Louisville, Kentucky. The verse was originally intended as a classroom greeting entitled "Good Morning To All." The lyrics were copyrighted in 1935, 11 years before Patty's death, and the ownership has swapped hands in multi-million dollar deals ever since; the copyright is currently owned by Time Warner (a subsidiary of which bought the rights in 1988) and is scheduled to expire in 2030. It is not completely certain who wrote the lyrics to "Happy Birthday."

Happy Birthday is among the top three most popular songs in the English language, along with "Auld Lang Syne" and "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."

One of the most famous performances of "Happy Birthday" was Marilyn Monroe's rendition to U.S. President John F. Kennedy in May 1962.

"Happy Birthday" copyright status

The neutrality of the following material is disputed

There is a 1935 copyright registration for "Happy Birthday," but "Good Morning to All" was published in 1893 and is public domain by U. S. statute. One cannot use the "Happy Birthday" lyrics for profit without paying royalties. Except for the splitting of the first note in the melody "Good Morning to All" to accommodate the two syllables in the word happy, melodically "Happy Birthday" and "Good Morning to All" are identical.

"Good Morning to All" is printed in Song Stories for the Kindergarten, pub. 1893 (revised edition pub. 1896). It credited Patty Hill for the lyrics and Mildred Hill for the music.

Neither the words nor the music of "Good Morning to All" are copyrighted under U. S. federal statute.

In 1924, Robert Coleman included "Good Morning to All" in a songbook with the birthday lyrics as a second verse. Coleman also published "Happy Birthday" in The American Hymnal in 1933. Children's Praise and Worship, edited by Andrew Byers, Bessie L. Byrum and Anna E. Koglin, published the song in 1928.

Later the "Happy Birthday" lyrics combined with the Hills' published melody showed up on stage. The Broadway musical The Band Wagon used "Happy Birthday" in 1931. The Hill family won a 1934 law suit granting them the 1935 copyright for "Happy Birthday," which does not affect today's public domain status of "Good Morning to All." (see the New York Times of August 15, 1934, p.19 col. 6)

Precedent (regarding works derived from public domain material, and cases comparing two similar musical works) seems to suggest that the melody used in "Happy Birthday" would not merit additional legal protection for one split note.

Whether or not changing the words "Good Morning" to "Happy Birthday" should be protected by copyright is a different matter. The words "Good Morning" were substituted with "Happy Birthday" by others than the authors of "Good Morning to All."

An interesting earlier songbook is Golden Book of Favorite Songs, Chicago, 1915. It includes the song "Good Morning to All" printed with the alternate title: "Happy Birthday to You." However, the "Happy Birthday" lyrics are not actually printed along the staff.

Regardless of the fact that Happy Birthday to You infringed upon Good Morning to All, there is one theory that because the Happy Birthday variation was not authored by the Hills, and it was published without notice of copyright under the 1909 U. S. copyright act, that the 1935 registration is invalid.

External links

These sites also have the Coleman songbooks in their archives: Sources for "Good Morning to All" sheet music: This page offers an mp3 sample of "Good Morning to All: Other editorials about "Happy Birthday" The "Classical Archives" has a Happy Birthday midi w/variations: Copyright and public domain in the U. S.: Public domain research services:

Other instances of the use of the title Happy Birthday: