It’s your 20th birthday and gathering around the cake are all your friends and family anticipating the traditional ‘Happy Birthday To You’ sing along.
There’s just one tiny problem with this scenario. Your family and friends are just about to breach copyright. Unbelievable, I know, but nonetheless true as the rights to “Happy Birthday to You” were sold to the Time Warner Corporation in 1998 collecting $2 million in royalties in 2008 according to Wikipedia.
The Statute of Queen Anne 1710 saw the first appearance of copyright (as opposed to the prior understanding of property as a scarce physical resource in the public domain, free for all to use), granting owners monopoly for 14 years after publication. The Berne Convention 1886 then enabled monopoly 50 years after the authors death, which guided us to current US Copyright Law, enabling a monopoly of 70 years after the authors death, and 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication if under corporate ownership. This means that J. R. R. Tolkien’s original novel ‘Lord of the Rings’ will be in the public domain in 2043.
The integrity of copyright regulations is most definitely a debatable topic, in which we’ve all been exposed to the concept, even if this means clicking ‘Agree’ to the terms and conditions on a download that you most likely haven’t read. If someone was to copy, modify or degrade the value of an original work you created I assume you would not be overly impressed. Yet, opposed to that is the absurdity that by singing ‘Happy Birthday’ you are breaking the law. The parody of Michael Buble’s song ‘Haven’t met you yet’ on YouTube, in which Michael replied “this is one of the coolest things he has ever seen”. Despite the violation of copyright, the publicity generated by the video ironically increased Buble’s popularity.
As of 2001, although, under the notion of fair use and creative commons stood the growth of creative communication through sharing, collaborating and expanding on original works, which we can only hope will become the future of copyright foundations.
So there it is. Copyright. Is it an ethical or excessively restrictive barrier to artistic growth? The answer lies in your hands, and to finish off I’ll leave you with a reminder. Be cautious how and where you sing ‘Happy Birthday’, a lawsuit from Time Warner is no birthday present.