Magazine article Risk Management

Birthday Suit

Magazine article Risk Management

Birthday Suit

Article excerpt

Back when I was in my teens, my obnoxious friends and I used to go to restaurants and surprise someone in our group by getting the waitstaff to sing "Happy Birthday" to them when it wasn't their birthday. The look of confusion on our targets face was always fun to watch and there was usually free cake, so it was worth the somewhat embarrassing spectacle. It was also entertaining to hear how far the singers would deviate from the traditional version of the song in what always seemed like an awkward attempt to work in the name of the restaurant. But these mangled versions of "Happy Birthday" actually had another purpose--helping the restaurant avoid copyright infringement. It turns out the ubiquitous birthday song is still under copyright and, in order to use it in any public performance, licensing fees must be paid to the copyright holder.

"Happy Birthday to You," as it's known in full, has a complicated history. The melody was originally written as "Good Morning to All" by sisters Mildred Hill and Patty Smith Hill in 1893. Over time, the lyrics changed and, in 1935, "Happy Birthday to You" was published and copyrighted in a songbook by the Clayton F. …

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