Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, October 30, 2017


The first time I was aware that we were not allowed to sing “Happy Birthday to you” unless we paid the copyright owners was while watching a baseball game on TV. The announcers wanted to sing the ditty to a centenarian who had followed the team all the years of her life but had been informed they could not do it on the air because they would be sued by the “owners” of the song if they did. Instead, they wished her “a joyful natal occasion.” It wasn’t quite the same.

It seemed ludicrous. But there were people who claimed they had “written” the song, back in the 1930s, and early in this century their claim had been purchased, for several million dollars, by a company, that was now trying to enforce the copyright by making people pay to sing the song. [1]

Okay, I am going to remind you that I wrote “Happy birthday to you, you belong in the zoo, you look like a monkey, and smell like one, too.” Don’t sing that to anyone unless you send me money first.

Actually, as a writer, I am very much in favor of copyright laws, and of acknowledging and paying the folks who write and compose.

When I was at HarperCollins in NYC to record the audio version of my cancer book [2], at several points, I started singing little ditties in the manuscript, songs I had made up to sing while I was recovering, such as “No more cancer” to the tune of Edelweiss. The engineers said, “You can’t do that; that tune belongs to Richard Rodgers.” So I had to improvise on the spot, and sing to a different tune, one in the public domain. So that particular little song became “No more cancer, no more cancer,” to the tune of “Oh, Freedom.” That happened six or seven times in the process of recording that book.

The way some folks act, you’d think they had copyrighted, and now own, “Jesus Loves Me.” Only they are allowed to sing it and believe it. The rest of us have to go to their birthday party of we don’t get to party at all. It’s wise for all of us to remember that only the Creator has the copyright on life.


1] In 2015, a federal judge ruled that the various companies claiming copyright to “Happy Birthday,” and thus exclusive use of it, unless we paid them in order to sing it, that all their copyright claims were invalid, and folks could go back to singing the song just like we always had.

2] NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, is published by AndrewsMcMeel. It is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. in hardback, paperback, audio, Japanese, and Czech.

I just noticed that in the October 16 blog, I mentioned “Sylvia” several times without adding a last name. It is possible that I just assumed if one is talking about a former opera and Broadway star who teaches at the Jacobs School of Music at IU, everyone will know which Sylvia it is. Or maybe I just forgot to say McNair.

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