As you may or may not know, Warner Chappell has claimed that the "most famous song in the world," Happy Birthday To You
, is covered by a copyright held by itself (which it purchased years back). The song generates a ridiculous amount of money per year (estimates say around $2 million) in licensing fees. Back in 2008, we pointed to
a detailed academic paper
that argues persuasively that the song is not
subject to copyright, and should be in the public domain. A few years later, even more evidence
was added, showing that the song is firmly in the public domain (and probably has been for over a century). The problem, of course, is that no one is willing to go up against a giant company like Warner to challenge the copyright.
So, perhaps there's another solution? The folks at the Free Music Archive and WFMU are teaming up to host a "New Happy Birthday Song" contest
, asking people to write their own song which they hope to use to replace the more controversial one. They've got a fantastic slate of judges
including Jonathan Coulton, Ira Kaplan (from Yo La Tengo) and Larry Lessig among others. Also, they've put together this fun video of TV shows and movies trying to sing alternate songs
to avoid being handed a bill:
Of course, if I had one complaint about the contest, it's the choice of licenses they're requiring for entries. They've picked Attribution 2.0 Unported
(CC BY 3.0), which is a good and very permissive license -- but I could see how even the attribution part becomes awkward here in some cases. If ever there were a case to support CC 0 licenses
this seems like a good one. Yes, I could see how the "attribution" requirement might help make the concept slightly more viral, but I'm not sure if that's enough of a benefit here.
Also, of course, this is definitely a cultural longshot. Convincing the world to switch Happy Birthday songs is, perhaps, the ultimate in quixotic goals. But that doesn't mean that it isn't worth a shot. So, if you ever wanted a chance to create a song that might, possibly replace the most popular song on the planet, now's your chance.