Is the Happy Birthday Song Copyrighted? [Podcast]

Today we have an educational discussion about how music royalties work. It turns out they’re a lot more complicated than we thought, since there are several people involved and places the song could be used.


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As we all know, the majority of written or performed music is subject to ownership copyrights. Any time you hear your favorite song played on the radio, in a movie, on TV commercial, etc., royalties are paid to the respective owners of that song.

According to a recent NPR article, the Happy Birthday song (yes, the one we all know and love) is no different. Filmmaker Jennifer Nelson is suing the song’s apparent owner, publisher Warner/Chappell, for charging her royalty fees to use the song in her film. The song is over 120 years old and (almost literally) everyone knows it—shouldn’t it be part of the public domain? Apparently not until their copyright expires in 2030.

So join us for this episode in which we explore the deep, dark depths of music royalties. Who gets a piece of the pie? Which scenarios require royalties to be paid? It’s a field trip of learning, so hop on the magic funk bus.


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