Today we look at an excellent example if the insanity of very long copyrights, Happy Birthday To You. Let's face it--it's not a great song. In fact, I rather think Rebecca Black's horrible "Friday" song compares favorably to it. However, to this day people get sued for performing it without paying royalties.
It's stilted, cloying, saccharine at best, over a hundred years old, and it's copyrighted, motherf*cker! From 1893. EIGHTEEN NINETY THREE. Exactly nobody who was alive then, is alive now. Nobody. They are all dead. All of them. Everybody. Zombies are prominent in popular culture right now; perhaps this is why. The dead seek royalties from beyond the grave.
So whenever anyone says to you, "without copyright, artists won't be encouraged to produce more music", just point out that neither Patty nor Mildred Hill are going to be producing any more crappy music of any kind, because they are long dead. Yet somehow Warner/Chappell Music has a moral right to make a dime off it if you sing it in public?
It's true--I don't only advocate the dramatic expansion of fair use to encompass all non-commercial use. I also think the current scheme of incredibly long copyright is preposterous, and anyone should be embarrassed to defend it.
Maybe we should have a National Happy Birthday To You Sing In Public And Invite A Lawsuit Day. That would be cool. I wonder what Warner/Chappel Music's lawyers would do if that happened? Can you have a reverse class action lawsuit? Sue everybody in the country at once? I bet our Supreme Court would approve.