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‘Happy Birthday’ Lawsuit Strikes Discord

The staff of Trax Cafe in Ambler. (Credit: Trax Cafe)

The staff of Trax Cafe in Ambler. (Credit: Trax Cafe)

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By Michelle Durham

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – How many times have you sung “Happy Birthday” to a family member at a restaurant as a cake is delivered to the table?

A federal judge will soon decide whether you could potentially be on the hook for thousands of dollars, because the company that owns the copyright to the song wants to make sure it is fairly compensated every time the song is used. But, another company is suing. They believe “Happy Birthday” should be returned to the public domain.

The song was written by Mildred and Patty Hill and sold in 1893 with the agreement the Hill’s would receive a percentage of sheet music sales. Warner/Chapell Music, who now claims to own the song, is asserting their right to enforce the copyright. At issue is whether the copyright is still in force or expired, but to many people, it shouldn’t matter.

Phil: “I think it’s ridiculous!”

Hope: “How sad!”

The company doesn’t seek money from those who sing “Happy Birthday” at home, but the lawsuit equates a restaurant with public performance, therefore the fee would apply.

“Happy Birthday is fun but whatever they do is fine,” says Barbara.

Steve Waxman, president and chef of Trax Cafe and Restaurant in Ambler, Pa., explains how they handle it:

“We try to acknowledge as many birthdays as possible by sending out a complimentary dessert.”

Reporter:  “Any singing?”

Waxman:   “No singing, because all my servers refuse. They say they are tone deaf!”

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