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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  1. icon
    nasch (profile), 11 Mar 2014 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Blocked due to copyright and licensing

    Iíd love to see Colbertís alternative, but itís blocked due to copyright and licensing restrictions because Iím not in the US.

    Perhaps Colbert could do a sketch about that, too.

    For you to not watch? Wouldn't really be in character anyway - his character doesn't care about foreigners.

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