The most lucrative song in music history wasn’t written by the Beatles, the Beach Boys, U2, or anybody else most people have heard of, but it is a song you undoubtedly know by heart. In fact, you’ve almost certainly performed it many times yourself. Would it surprise you to learn the song that’s raked in the most money over the years was written by a couple of music teacher sisters in Kentucky in the 1890s? That song is “Happy Birthday To You,” and it is still under copyright, all these years later. Technically, if the wait staff at a restaurant gathers around and sings it to you on your birthday in front of everybody without paying royalties afterwards, it’s not only embarrassing but illegal as well.


Most people are surprised to learn that “Happy Birthday To You” isn’t in the public domain. One woman, a filmmaker named Jennifer Nelson, set out to make a documentary about the popularity of the song through the years and was taken aback when Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, which claims the copyright, told her it would cost $1,500 to license the ditty.

The idea that the “Happy Birthday” song was owned by somebody, by anybody, seemed as strange to Jennifer Nelson as it would to most of us, and she decided to do something about it. Her company, Good Morning To You Productions, filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of herself and many others who had been forced to pay for the song, alleging that the copyright taken out on the song in 1935 wasn’t valid.

A ruling is expected soon, and there’s a lot of birthday money at stake; “Happy Birthday To You” rakes in an estimated $2 million per year in royalties and licensing fees. With the U.S. copyright not due to run out on its own until 2030, Warner/Chappell stands to lose a fortune if the case doesn’t go their way.



Whatever the financial stakes involved, safeguarding your company’s intellectual property is important. You can ensure that you and yours have many happy birthdays to come if you let TS2 help you find people who know licensing inside and out. Social media, gaming, marketing, IT, entertainment; whatever tune you hum, TS2 can help assemble a team that will keep your ideas protected. Contact TS2 to find out more.