The Happy Birthday song was not free to sing.
Until recently, the song Happy Birthday was owned by Warner Music, and you could have gotten in trouble for singing it. But you didn’t get in trouble, and no one that you knew got in trouble, because Warner looked the other way when you sang it at your kid’s last birthday party.
But some were not so lucky.
Businesses paid Warner Music millions of dollars for the rights to use the Happy Birthday song in ad campaigns. It’s the most recognized song in the English language, and it wasn’t free.
That all just changed.
Happy Birthday was set free by U.S. District Judge George H. King. He basically gave the song Happy Birthday a new birthday on September 22, 2015. Anyone can now use Happy Birthday for anything they wish. Yay!
Go ahead. Sing it. (You know you want to.)
Copyright and all that stuff.
This is a good time to think about all the Internet stuff you borrow.
If you are a small business owner, small advertising budgets may tempt you to “borrow” stuff from the Internet. A quick Google search and Bam! you’ve got a picture and a slogan or article.
That “stuff on the Internet” usually belongs to someone.
Businesses get “Cease and Desist” orders from major companies all the time. It really happens. Usually, they get off easy- a bill for a few hundred dollars and removing the “borrowed” material. But sometimes, penalties are huge. Learn the common myths about copyright here.
Personal and Advertising Injury Coverage.
If you are a small business owner, you may have some limited coverage for advertising injury & copyright infringement under your General Liability Insurance. But it may not be automatically included. You need to check your policy or call your insurance agent to be sure.
Don’t assume you have this coverage.
Even if you have this coverage, you still need to be careful. The policy language is not always the same between different policies. There are always excluded behaviors. Lawyers can have a field day with your mistakes.
Two pieces of advice.
Most folks will be happy to share what they have created- for a price. Some kind souls will even allow you to use what they create for free, as long as they are asked. Many creatives license their work under Creative Commons, and if you follow their terms, you can use their work.
Call your insurance agent.
If you are a small business owner, now is a good time (heck- it’s always a good time!) to call your insurance agent. You should review your business policy each year, and this topic can go on the list of things to discuss. Your agent gets paid to worry about things like this. Call your agent.