SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – The classic “Happy Birthday To You” song has been around longer than anyone can remember, however, that doesn’t mean its free and clear for singers to perform in public spaces.
At least, that’s what San Francisco’s Café International found recently, after an open mic performer sang the song to a friend in the audience. According to Hoodline, the popular Haight Street cafe was threatened with a lawsuit by the large music licensing organization BMI, which collects royalties on behalf of artists worldwide from appropriate venues.
However, according to the U.S. Copyright Act, Café International may not even be liable for the alleged copyright infringement. The owner claims that they don’t make a profit from open mic nights, meaning that there is no “commercial advantage” that would require them to pay royalties or subject them to legal action.
Still, BMI (as well as SESAC, a similar but smaller organization) has repeatedly approached the cafe with threats of lawsuits, even going so far as to secretly record performances that they claim violate the law. They have reportedly demanded that the space’s owner begin paying them for unauthorized performances, like that of “Happy Birthday To You”.
While the restaurant and cafe won’t do away with their popular open mic night, they are again reinforcing that performances must feature exclusively original music, even when it is someone’s birthday.
For comments from owner Zahra Saleh, head to Hoodline.