Legal Blog

Are You Properly Licensed to Sing “Happy Birthday”?

Originally posted on 02/20/20, content updated on 11/17/23


It can’t possibly be illegal to sing “Happy Birthday”…  can it?  We sing “Happy Birthday” about as often as we mow the lawn, fill up the car with gas, or go to the grocery store.  Until recently, however, we may have been doing so illegally, depending on the circumstances.  It’s easy to forget (if one ever was even aware in the first place!) that someone first wrote a tune and that intellectual property rights might extend to something as basic as “Happy Birthday.”  Particularly egregious violations of such IP rights [note tongue firmly in cheek!] might include summer campfire renditions, or worse, heaven forbid (!), posting a YouTube video in blatant disregard for such legally protected rights. Fear not! (well, fearless, at least…) As a result of a major lawsuit involving the copyright’s claimed owner at the time, Warner/Chappell Music, the Happy Birthday tune, written in 1893 by Patty Smith Hill and her sister Mildred J. Hill (originally titled “Good Morning to All”) is now in the “public domain.” 

Additionally, after the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) threatened years ago to sue the Girl Scouts, among others, the American Camp Association (ACA) and ASCAP reached an understanding costing the ACA thousands of dollars a year to assure legal campfire singing of copyrighted music – the ACA licenses all of ASCAP’s licensed music for all ACA-accredited camps!

[Legal disclaimer:  Posting a video of your little campfire girl performing even an ACA/ASCAP-licensed tune requires its own special license (available through ASCAP’s Internet Licensing Dept – for a small fee, naturally!).  Also, stage production music is licensed by MTI, an entirely separate entity (with no blanket camp licensing deal in place!).]

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Headshot of Thomas Repczynski, Principal at Offit Kurman's Tysons Corner | 703.745.1801

As a Principal with Offit Kurman’s Commercial Litigation Group, Mr. Repczynski is an Estate and Trust litigator and business litigation lawyer emphasizing will/trust disputes, creditors’ rights enforcement, and B2B business disputes.  Together with OK’s legal team now spanning from NYC to Charlotte, North Carolina, Tom provides general counsel to a wide array of businesses (foreign and domestic), associations (local and international non-profits), individuals (personally and in representative capacities), and lenders (traditional and Sharia) in federal, state, and bankruptcy courts as well as ADR and administrative proceedings relating primarily to inheritance-related disputes, general business contract and tort issues, and divorce-impacting bankruptcies.  Over the past 30 years, Tom has co-owned and operated an exterior painting business and a used furniture business; clerked in the Starr OIC and interned at both Main Justice and the Court of Federal Claims; chaired two local Bar association Boards, two community architectural review boards (VA and NC), and the Committee of Boy Scout Troop 688.  Tom currently chairs the South Fairfax Chamber of Commerce; announces local high school football games; actively supports local dance and musical theater; and umpires Little League games when time allows.