Saturday, September 26, 2015

Still Life With Robin: Good News to You!

Wikimedia Creative Commons
by Peggy Robin

Amid the coming and going of the pope, the farewell tears of John Boehner, the state dinner for the President of China, and the naming of the panda cub – to cite just a few of the events vying for public attention during the jam-packed news-cycles of this past week – you may have missed a small but significant piece of good news. Indeed, the Washington Post relegated the story to a “round-up” report somewhere in the back pages of the business section in the print edition I received on Wednesday. Here’s the online version of the news that tells in eight words what there is to cheer about:

“Judge frees ‘Happy Birthday’ song from copyright claims”

I have been following this case intently ever since 2013 when the brave plaintiff, documentary filmmaker and song liberationist Jennifer Nelson, stood up to the Warner Music Publishing Company and boldly asserted that the company did not in fact hold a valid copyright to either the words or the music to "Happy Birthday to You," which was first published in 1893 under the title, “Good Morning to All.” Her aim was to free us all from fear of bullying by lawyers bearing cease-and-desist letters – and when I say “us all” I don’t mean just the Hollywood producers who want to put birthday party scenes in their movies or TV shows – but also the family that would post a clip of their kid’s special day on Youtube, and the waiters at the restaurant who want to serenade a party with a cake, and the camp counselors who want a birthday boy or girl to enjoy their birthday dinner while away at camp. Think these are over-the-top examples? In the (copyrighted) words of the great Dave Barry, “I am not making this up!” (See for the full story.)

On Wednesday, truth, liberty, and justice at last prevailed, and the 122-year-old song has been given back to the public who thought it was always theirs. For a more detailed report on the history of the song and the case, go to:

Now that we can sing it loud and in public without fear, to whom should we sing it? Here are a few names worthy of song who have a birthday today:

Serena Williams – Happy 34th!
Olivia Newton-John – Happy 67th
Jonathan Goldsmith (the TV commercial actor who plays “The Most Interesting Man in the World”) Happy 77th!)
George Gershwin – Happy 117th!
T.S. Eliot – Happy 127th!
Johnny Appleseed – Happy 241st!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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