‘Read me some Camus to cheer me up.’ — Hayley Franklin, 3, after hearing new birthday song.

Ever notice that movies and TV shows go out of their way never to sing “Happy Birthday To You” on-screen? Well that’s because Time Warner owns the copyright and rides that cash cow to the tune (hah!) of $2 million every year. Every unauthorized rendition of the song is technically worth $700 in royalties payable to Time Warner.

Time Warner’s zealous enforcement has even raised concerns that YouTube may have to take down videos of kiddie parties singing the song.

How can we break Time Warner’s stranglehold over our annual celebration of our own impending mortality? A New Jersey radio station (WFMU) decided to write a new song to replace “Happy Birthday To You” and brought in Harvard professor Larry Lessig to judge the competition.

A video of the new song that you’ll come to love appears after the jump. And by love I mean, “listen to, laugh, and hope to purge from your memory”….

That song is what I’d imagine depressives sing to themselves alone on their 55th birthday before they stick a shotgun in their mouths and pull the trigger with their toes. It sounds like Radiohead made a birthday dirge and left out their trademark happy-go-lucky pep.

Larry Lessig picked this? He may need a hug, you guys.

The task of creating a new birthday song is a fool’s errand. The original is firmly implanted in the brain of English-speaking children coming out of the womb. A more effective use of our collective efforts would be mounting a legal challenge to dislodge Time Warner from its copyright claim.

Professor Robert Brauneis of GW Law wrote a detailed study of the song and its copyright status and concluded that the song almost assuredly lost its copyright a long time ago. Brauneis noted that a “silver bullet” has yet to be found, but that a great deal of evidence exists against Time Warner’s claim to continue bilking the entertainment industry until 2030 — the year Time Warner claims the song will finally pass into the public domain.

Until then, I’m going to hit play on this clip again and sit in my basement looking at old pictures of dead pets while eating pizza directly from the box.


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