Happy Birthday (1893) songwriter Patty Hill (co-written with her sister Mildred J Hill) was a principal who taught at what is now the Little Loomhouse (328 Kenwood Hill Rd, Louisville, KY 40214)
The song was originally called "Good Morning to All," which was introduced to Patty's kindergarten class.
Years later, in 1893, they published it in Song Stories for the Kindergarten.
It's been argued that they borrowed from other 19th century songs. They did not copyright the song. This is one of the flaws of music copyright, almost every song has an origin that was not copyrighted.
Some believe teachers eventually altered the lyrics to Happy Birthday.
The complete words of "Happy Birthday to You" were published in the last 4 lines of Edith Goodyear Alger's poem "Roy's Birthday" from her book A Primer of Work and Play. D. C. Heath copyrighted in 1901. There was no reference to this being sung.
The Elementary Worker and His Work (1911) published the words of Happy Birthday for the first time with the tune of Good Morning To All.
But there were already newspaper references to a song called "Happy Birthday to You" dating back to 1901.
In 1935, Summy Company, the publisher of "Good Morning to All," copyrighted some piano melodies and an unused verse of "Happy Birthday to You" crediting Preston Ware Orem (piano) and Mrs. R. R. Forman for (lyrics), hired contractors.
In 1988, Warner/Chappell paid $25 million for this 1935 copyright, buying its current owner Birch Tree Group Limited, claiming the copyright did not expire until 2030, and gave Warner to right to charge for any public performance of Happy Birthday.
They made a record $50 million off of one song.
Restaurant servers started singing their own version of it to avoid copyright trolls.
Then came director Jennifer Nelson who wanted to make a documentary about the world's most famous song. She was told she was required to pay a $1500 licensing fee to use the song.
She filed a class action lawsuit saying Warner/Chappell's copyright claim was invalid on June 13, 2013.
A judge September 22, 2015 ruled Warner/Chappell's copyright did not cover the lyrics. It only covered a portion of the song. Warner/Chappell would settle paying out $14 million for invalid use of copyright.
The greatest use of copyright in music for a song essentially had the greatest ill-gotten gains.
C. Bedford Crenshaw photo.