Photo credit: Christophe Verdier / Foter.com / CC BY-NC
The Happy Birthday song has been around for a long time. It is so popular and so ubiquitous that it’s part of the Commons. It’s obviously in the Public Domain, belonging to everyone, free for everyone to sing.
Photo from Jennifer Nelson’s website
If you believe that, then it could get you in trouble. It cost filmmaker Jennifer Nelson fifteen hundred dollars. She was making a documentary about the song and found out during the process that someone holds the copyright on it and wanted her money. She paid the ransom so she could get on with her project, but now she’s taking them to court to try to set Happy Birthday free. Here’s a copy of the complaint on Scribd, the document sharing site. The Hollywood Reporter also has an article on the class action lawsuit.
Photo from Oliver Sacks’ website
With another angle on the harm caused by excessive copyright, here’s an article concerning the problems it is causing for Oliver Sacks. It contains a link to an essay by Sacks in the New York Times Book Review, where he complains about the dearth of large-print books. From Sacks’ essay:
“I came out frustrated, and furious: did publishers think the visually impaired were intellectually impaired too?” – Oliver Sacks
When something like Happy Birthday can still be shackled by copyright more than a century later, something is wrong with copyright law. You can find my previous posts on copyright here, here, here and here.