Ever been at a restaurant when it was someone's birthday?
Wretched, isn't it?
Not celebrating a birthday at a restaurant; who could have a problem with that? It's when the customers ask/demand that the already beleaguered wait staff walk away from their other customers to form a circle around the increasingly red faced birthday boy/girl, regale them with their off-key singing, hand them a cold piece of cake straight from a freezer and then go about their day as if nothing happened.
And while the cake may be bad and possibly not even free, the true crime being committed here is the lousy song.
It's never "Happy Birthday," is it? The real, actual "Happy Birthday" song.
Whether sung directly in the face of a confused infant or moaned at a dirge pace to a co-worker you know only as "sweater lady" the happy birthday song is an institution, sung by young and old alike to announce the oncoming candle-blowing ceremony, which itself serves as a prelude to cake. We all sing it at every birthday party.
Unless you are in public, because then somebody has to pay.
Yes, pay. Cash. Real, American dollars. Because "Happy Birthday to You," the official name of the 15 second song, is copyright protected by something called Warner/Chappell. And it's not cheap either, something like $700 for the unauthorized use of a song so unapologetically trite it boggles the mind that it took two people to write it.
But that should be easy enough to avoid, right? All you have to do is not sing ... the song in question ... at any kind of public function, on TV, on the Internet or really anywhere the Warner/Chappell can hear you.
Oh, if it were only that easy.
You see "Happy Birthday" isn't the only piece of common language that is protected by copyright; a slew of ubiquitous phrases fall under the pains and penalties of copyright protection.
Person 1: Hey, do you have a quarter I?could borrow? I want to get a snack from the vending machine but my kid ran out the front door today with my change jar so he could buy glue to sniff (subtext!).
Person 2: Sure, and sorry about you kid.
Person 1: Don't worry, I never really liked him anyway.
Person 2: Oh ... well, it looks like I?don't have a quarter.
Person 1: Oh. How much do you have?
That's right, the phrase "How much do you have" is the copyrighted intellectual property of the friend to children and the homeless alike, Coinstar.
Kid 1: Hey, Dad, are you telling people that I stole the change jar to buy sniffin' glue when you actually took it to feed your addiction to off-brand vending machine snacks?
Person 1, from behind a mouthful of Big Texas Cinnamon Roll: That's a lie!
THAT'S A LAWSUIT!
The phrase "That's a lie!" is owned by a retail store called Froman Mills, where honesty is far from their best policy.
Person 1: Who's there?
LAWSUIT, that's who!
Yes, even the lowly "who's there?" is owned by a company called Louise Paris. Judging by their website Louise Paris specializes in producing both jeans and unending fields of whitespace. Seriously, check out their website louiseparis.com; it looks like 1997 over there.
Some copyrighted phrases are iconic, ("Where's the beef?" Wendy's) some are peculiar ("How do you roll?" General Mills) and some seem like they should be yelled during a heated exchange on an episode of "Jerry Springer" ("This is who I am!" Richline Group). But it looks like you can copyright just about any phrase, for just about any reason.
Which is why I'm applying to copyright the phrase "Shut up!" Millions of people, every day, often in traffic, on the Internet or on cable news, are absolutely refusing to listen to each other; it's a gold mine! Think about it; how many times a day do you say it?
No, seriously, how many times a day do you say it? Because that'll be $700 a pop or I'm calling my lawyer.
If those "Happy Birthday" morons can get in on this racket then so can I.