After a court decision last night, movie and television characters might finally be able to sing “Happy Birthday to You.” The Summy Company contested for decades that it owned the copyright to the universally recognized birthday song and charged productions $10,000 to include its melody and lyrics. No one really wanted to pay all that for an incidental song (with the bizarre exception of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room), so shows and films have made up their own alternative birthday songs to skirt the copyright.
That era might finally be over, but some of those fake jingles are pretty great. A few years back, the Free Music Archive assembled a collection of some of their favorite royalty-free birthday songs into a video, embedded above. There’s some good choices, especially Police Squad!‘s overdubbed choral replacement and Waiting‘s uncomfortable military chant.
But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the greatest omission from that video: “Spirit Formation Journey Anniversary” from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The character Master Shake wrote this bizarre metal dirge in an attempt to replace the original birthday song and claim royalties once it becomes popular at restaurants. It’s a spot-on parody of the ridiculous hoops creative media had to jump to sing a song that effectively belonged to the public.
As with so many cultural references, all these substitute songs are now instantly relics and will be confusing for future generations. Or maybe we’ll have moved on to “Spirit Formation Journey Anniversary” by then.