So apparently, Warner Music owns the rights to the “Happy Birthday” song. Though some are challenging that in court.
I never really thought of Happy Birthday as an actual song, but apparently it is. And in the same way you can’t sing someone else’s song in a public production, you can’t do it with “Happy Birthday” either.
That means that movies that include the Happy Birthday song have to pay royalties. Snopes confirms it. It’s even a violation of copyright to sing Happy Birthday in a restaurant, those Snopes acknowledges that that’s rarely enforced. (It is not, however, a violation of copyright to sing the song in private settings – only “public” settings.)
How much will it cost you to sing Happy Birthday in a movie or TV show? Somewhere bettween $5,000 and $30,000 dollars.
Reportedly, the Girl Scouts were warned that they’d have to pay a fee if girls sang it around the campfire. And this is, allegedly, the reason so many restaurants have fake-alternative ways of singing Happy Birthday, so they don’t have to pay royalties.
Some allege that the copyright is questionable, that Happy Birthday might already be public domain. But until that argument wins in court – a lawsuit is ongoing – Warner Music will continue to collect $2 million a year up until 2030, when the copyright expires, and Happy Birthday will be free.