Sunday, October 11, 2015

Happy Birthday,’ Screw You —
Happy Birthday,’ Screw You —

Parker Higgins at Electronic Frontier Foundation:
It’s now (probably) legal to publicly sing the world's most popular song, thanks to an opinion handed down yesterday [9/22/2015] by a federal judge in Los Angeles. After years of litigation, the court held that the lyrics of "Happy Birthday To You" are not restricted by Warner/Chappell's copyright, handing a solid victory to a group of filmmakers producing a documentary about the song, not to mention the general public.

We’re glad about the ruling, but we can’t help noting that the case casts some of the deeper problems with our copyright system into stark contrast. For one thing, copyright terms are way, way, way too long.

Regular readers may know I'm not fond of copyright the way it has developed here since the founders of our nation embedded it in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8): a concept intended to do two things— materially reward useful or artistic creative effort ("... by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"), while allowing such work to become part of the commons after a time as a means of encouraging later authors, composers, inventors etc. to develop earlier ideas into further useful creations— has ended up serving only a couple of very powerful trade associations in the movie, music and publishing businesses and simultaneously doing practically nothing to encourage the proper use of earlier material by later creators. That use is, of course, where the real benefit to society resides; now it's gone.

That's what we've seen to date (e.g., kids facing near-million-dollar fines for downloading digital recordings and making their own CDs or iPod content), and I'm pretty sure we can expect nothing but more-of-the-same in the future. That's pretty damned far from the expressed original intention of copyright, but it serves the greedy very well, and that's the nature of America today. [/rant]

So the judge's releasing of America's usual Birthday Song from a faulty copyright held by Warner/Chappell, who exercised it to a profit typically $2 million a year (see the EFF article linked above), is a good thing. I assume the excessive fines levied in some copyright matters will now be challenged in court, at least by those who can afford the legal bills. And that, too, is a good thing.

As to the song itself, which I consider an unartistic near-atrocity, see this post's title for my unchanged reaction to it. That song is not a good thing!


  1. Key part of the constitutional provision: LIMITED TIME. But the Sonny "Fucking" Bono Act and other travesties have diluted the original intent. Sigh.

    1. Precisely, ntodd. You own your creations, but not forever. It's the only way that makes sense... to me, at least; it seems RIAA, MPAA, ASCAP etc. don't agree with me. But that's no surprise either; we live in an era of absolutes, and those assns believe they own their IP absolutely forever.



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