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“Happy Birthday” May Be in the Public Domain, After All

Photo of lit candles on a cake that spell "Happy Birthday"You probably have sung Happy Birthday [to You]” countless times. This post is about a company that has been collecting royalties from that song and the possibility that those royalties soon may stop.

In 1893, sisters Mildred Jane Hill and Patty Smith Hill published a collection of children’s songs. One of the songs – with the tune that we now know for “Happy Birthday to You” – was “Good Morning to All”.

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.

While no one knows for sure who wrote the “Happy Birthday” lyrics, their first known publication was in 1912. (more…)

How Old Can a Copyrighted Work Be?

Cover of Time Magazine published March 3, 1923

Cover of Time Magazine published March 3, 1923

Sometimes people want to know whether a work is so old that it it can be copied without any possibility of infringing anyone’s copyright. This post provides the answer (in the United States).

Before January 1, 1979 – when then-existing copyrights were automatically extended to 95 years from the end of the year in which the copyright was secured – copyrights were in effect for 28 years, with extension, if requested, for a second 28-year period (total of 56 years).

So the earliest a work could have been copyrighted (which, at that time, required publication with a copyright notice) and still received the automatic extension was 56 years before January 1, 1979, i.e., January 1, 1923. The copyright for such a work would expire on December 31, 2018 (after 95 years).

(more…)