A court decision Tuesday put the classic "Happy Birthday to You" in the public domain, at least for the moment. Up until that ruling, films, TV shows, even restaurants have had to exercise considerable creativity to create alternate songs, often to avoid paying royalties for the original song. We thought we'd round up some of the most popular and the most clever.
For He's A Jolly Good Fellow
One of the most ubiquitous, this song has long been firmly in the public domain, with origins dating to the 18th century. It's a go-to for those looking to avoid "Happy Birthday" royalties — including "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which wished Worf a happy birthday with a Klingon version of the song.
Stephen Colbert's patriotic birthday riff
Stephen Colbert took a shot at then-copyright-holder Warner's litigious hold over "Happy Birthday," creating a version of "Happy Birthday to You" with modified lyrics — sung to the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The fact that you have to pay a couple limbs (or at least 4 to 5 figures) for the use of the song has inspired several sitcoms to take a shot at it. This scene from "Community" starts with the last two words of the song, while also making clear in the story that they deeeeefinitely didn't sing the rest of the song. Whew. Copyright violation avoided!
"Futurama" did a futuristic take on the song, with slightly different lyrics and one melodic change to separate it from the version we know (though it ends with un-claimed add-on lyrics we've all come to know.)
A buffet of restaurant birthday songs
A dinner out to celebrate someone's birthday wouldn't be complete without an embarrassing birthday song that makes them the center of attention. And nothing works better than having restaurant employees wish them a happy birthday in humiliating song.
Chili's uses perhaps the most well-known — the superspeed version, preceded by an announcement to the restaurant:
Red Robin has used a variety of songs — including one that makes strange use of "Alouette," safely in the public domain after it's popularization during World War I. Presented here for your approval:
Friendly's used a song set to the cadence of an Army march, that also feels vaguely threatening:
Of course, the people who are usually happiest about public birthday wishes are kids. There's nowhere that that's more a part of the experience than the Chuck E. Cheese birthday call-and-response (and dance):
YouTube "Happy Birthday [NAME]!" videos
YouTube has spawned a whole cottage industry of odd "Happy Birthday [Name]!" videos. Go type your name into YouTube; you'll likely come up with plenty of them. Here are a few examples of this weird video site subculture. Some are more careful to avoid copyright violations than others (though you'll notice the one who sings the actual song slightly tweaks the melody):
IFC's the Birthday Boys did a riff on this, with a sketch on their TV show about birthday wishes. They then created a YouTube channel with a number of customized birthday songs, like this one, where space alien Woosh conveniently hides his mouth whenever he says your name:
What are your favorite thinly-veiled attempts to skirt Happy Birthday copyright? Let us know in the comments.