Can we replace the Happy Birthday song?

DAVID HAGLUND
Last updated 10:09 03/01/2013
happy birthday song
Getty Images
MARK THE OCCASION: Creative Commons says it's time to come up with an alternative to the Happy Birthday song.

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Creative Commons, the nonprofit organisation behind popular online copyright licenses, has come up with a radical way to celebrate its 10th birthday.

To mark the occasion, the Free Music Archive (FMA) has launched a contest to replace the "Happy Birthday" song with a new tune that people could use for free.

The traditional song is not in the public domain. It was acquired in 1988 by Warner Music Group, which reportedly collects "upward of US$2 million ($2.4 million) a year from film and TV fees off the song", and their copyright is not scheduled to expire until 2030.

As Paul Collins demonstrated in Slate in 2011, that copyright claim is highly dubious but it has not yet been successfully disputed, in part because it is probably cheaper to simply pay the fee than to challenge the claim in court.

Sometimes, though, movies and shows avoid the fees by using their own birthday compositions. The FMA collected a bunch of those alternatives in a video. Sadly missing: the birthday song Jack Black performed on Saturday Night Live several years ago, probably the greatest alternative to "Happy Birthday" ever written.

If you want to submit your own alternative birthday song, you can read the rules at the FMA website. Entries are due by January 13, and judges include Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo and past Slate contributor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard University.

- Washington Post/Bloomberg

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