The Tangle That is Happy Birthday

Despite everyone’s carefree joy in singing Happy Birthday to You, this simple song puts you in legal jeopardy every time it exits your mouth. A considerable amount of money flows to the corporation that owns the copyright. But … maybe that company doesn’t own the copyright, and maybe you are in no legal peril. Professor Robert Brauneis, of George Washington University law school, took a professional, long, deep look into these questions. This Happy Birthday matter, it turns out, is a murky mess.

Brauneis published a 69-page disquisition called Copyright and the World’s Most Popular Song. Before plunging into the legal history, evidence and arguments, he examined the history….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.