Saturday, 8 August 2015

© and so say we all

Featured on the ever-excellent Boing Boing, writer Glenn Fleishman explores the fascinating and unexpected struggle over copyrights, ownership and lapsed licenses through the lens of the infamous and unnaturally long-lived legal wrangling of the Sisters Hill and the Happy Birthday song.
Perpetuated by the descendants in hopes of securing royalties for each instance that the song appears in television or film—for which it’s conspicuously absent and usually replaced with a rousing and somewhat incongruous chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” the unsettled lawsuits have really overshadowed the professional lives and scholarship of the pioneering Patty and Mildred Hill, who were respectively, at a time when most women did not have vocations, an early childhood educational theorist and an ethnomusicologist. Patty even worked with German pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel, whose wooden unit blocks (Fröbelgaben) we all know, and helped to introduce the concept of these educational toys to the States. For a white girl, Mildred really had some soul and championed so called black music as a national treasure to be cherished. Later the sisters collaborated on musical compositions for school children, eventually producing the celebratory tune. No one is trying to rob their children and grandchildren of a birthright but this singular case (another type of block or brick, Lego, is maybe something comparable) illustrates a lot of the tricks behind creative-controls and the integrity of invention.