Have you ever noticed how people rarely sing “Happy Birthday to You” in movies and television? Instead, people usually sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” even though no one actually sings that song in real life. Nevertheless, this falsification of reality happens all the time. My favorite example was when the crew of the Enterprise sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Worf on his birthday (in Klingon, naturally). At the end of the song, Worf observed, “that is not a Klingon song.” Worf’s observation is ironic, of course, because even humans don’t really sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to each other on their birthdays. (Well, maybe the humans who speak Klingon do….)
The reason for this falsification of reality is two-fold. First, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” is clearly in the public domain (which means you can use it for free). Second, Warner/Chappell Music claims to own the copyright to the song “Happy Birthday to You” and charges $1,500 for a “synch license” whenever someone wants to use it on screen.
And until now, no one has ever formally challenged Warner/Chappell’s copyright to the Happy Birthday song.