Stephen Colbert Creates Royalty-Free Alternative To Happy Birthday For Happy Birthday's Happy Birthday

from the got-that? dept

For years, we’ve covered the insanity of Warner Music claiming to own the copyright on the song Happy Birthday — a claim that is finally being challenged in court because Warner’s claims are almost certainly bullshit, and the song should be in the public domain. The history of the copyright claim in the song is highly questionable, as the original “copyright holders” appear to have written neither the music nor the lyrics to “Happy Birthday,” and what they did write was widely used decades before any copyright claim was made. Still, Warner gets somewhere around $2 million each year licensing the song (making it the most valuable song ever) and has no intention of giving up that free revenue stream.

A year or so ago, the folks at the Free Music Archive and WFMU asked people to create a new royalty-free song to add to the countless variations that restaurants have come up with over the years to avoid paying Warner. Not surprisingly, the “winner” of that contest has yet to catch on.

However, last week was technically the 90th anniversary of the song’s “publication” date (from which the copyright claim comes, despite the song itself existing for decades prior). In response to this, Stephen Colbert did what Stephen Colbert does best, and mocked the ridiculous copyright situation by demonstrating that he was unable to “sing Happy Birthday for Happy Birthday’s Happy Birthday.” Instead, he decided to perform a new alternative, which he declares to be royalty-free for anyone to use, and basing it on the (public domain) melody of the American national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner (apologies ahead of time for those in various locations that Comedy Central geoblocks and who can’t see this video — I wish they didn’t, but they do):

I’m not sure this one is any more likely to catch on than any of the other alternatives (and the lyrics may not be entirely appropriate for all birthdays…), but Colbert does have quite the loyal audience. At the very least, perhaps this version will become popular among copyright scholars.

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Companies: warner music

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Comments on “Stephen Colbert Creates Royalty-Free Alternative To Happy Birthday For Happy Birthday's Happy Birthday”

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Claire Rand says:

There is a slight level of irony here in this, given the subject matter, that it is indeed geoblocked here.

Still at least the banner informing me of this has a level of humour higher than many such things which tend to be simply rude.

For the benefit of the USians out there:

Sorry but this video is unaviable from your location

Its one of the detriments from living under a monarchy. But in case you can’t give up on your silly accents and move to America…

And who says Americans don’t do irony.

ethorad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

For some reason the banner pissed me off more than just a “We refuse to show you this content because you’re outside the USA”

They should be honest about why they’re not showing us the video and not try and blame it on the user.

The banner closes with a request that us foreigners go to watch clips on their website. Not likely. Why would I bother when I haven’t seen this video? I’m told it was amusing and would have made me want to see more but I have no idea.


Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Here in the UK it says:

“Sorry this video is unavailable from your location.

It’s one of the detriments of living under a monarchy. But in case you can’t give up your silly accents and move to America, watch clips from the Colbert Report at”

‘Silly’ accents? That’s rich coming from a bunch of colonials! 🙂

That One Guy (profile) says:

For those who can't watch it:

Here’s the lyrics.

Happy birthday to you
happy birthday to me
now we all get to sing
happy birthday for free

And the candle’s red glare
don’t set fire to your hair
you’re getting so old
and you’re shaped like a pear

Happy birthday insert name here
if you don’t know it just mumble softly
Warner music can’t sue me
and the home of the brave

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