Defendants to be sued by AOL Time Warner.
Defendants to be sued by AOL Time Warner.

You know how when you go to Applebee’s those waiters suddenly all start clapping and sing some weird custom birthday song. Are they not sining the more traditional “Happy Birthday To You” because the people who run Applebee’s are so creative? Nope. It’s because Happy Birthday is not in the public domain.

Public Domain is the term for items that are no longer owned by anyone. Something like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is free to use by anyone because it’s in the Public Domain. But something newer, like say, Get Lucky by Daft Punk is not. It is owned by some record company somewhere and if you try to sell your own copies of it you’ll get sued faster than you can say copyright infringement.

So who owns “Happy Birthday To You”? America Online oddly enough. AOL earns a cool 2 million a year from the song being played in movies and TV shows. Although, AOL is currently being sued to get the song into the public domain by a film company making a documentary about the song. Well, if at my next birthday people are singing “It’s your birthday have a happy time” you’ll know the answer.

“Happy Birthday To You” isn’t the only thing that’s not in the public domain that you might have thought was. Here are a couple of more:

I’m A Little Teapot: Actually called “The Teapot Song” was only created in 1939 by a guy trying to teach kids to tap dance. He decided that was too difficult, and created the teapot dance instead. It worked, I’ve been doing the teapot dance since kindergarden.

Little Drummer Boy: This popular X-Mas song has been covered so many times you would think it’d be in the public domain, but alas no. The song was originally written in 1941 by Katherine Davis, but was then known as “Carol of the Drum”. It wasn’t until 1958 when it was rearranged by Harry Simeone that it became the version we know today.

Can I be sued for putting this picture here?
Can I be sued for putting this picture here?

American Gothic:┬áThe infamous painting of the old people and the barn by Grant Wood is not in the public domain. With all the crazy parodies of this painting you would think it’d be in the public domain, but you’d be wrong.

Fun fact: The people in the painting are Mr. Wood’s sister and his dentist.

Much less fun fact: Mr. Wood was a closeted homosexual and was shunned by the rest of the art world. One of the reasons he never really had anymore famous paintings.

All this talk about stuff that isn’t free is bumming me out. So let’s change the subject and talk about something that is in the public domain, but you might not realize it.

The Wizard of Oz is in the public domain. The book though, not the movie. So if you want to make your own movie, you are free to do so. You just can’t use anything that was in the movie but not the book. Like the songs, red shoes or munchkins hanging themselves.


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