I have a follow-up. Who is Len Blavatnik?
As anyone who’s sat through a knock-off birthday anthem in a chain restaurant knows, “Happy Birthday to You” has been under copyright since 1934. The song was originally written in 1893 as “Good Morning to All” by two Kentucky sisters and later adapted into its birthday-celebrating form and copyrighted. Since then, the song’s ownership has moved around as various publishing conglomerates have folded together and gobbled each other up.
Today, the song is part of the Warner Music Group’s portfolio, which is in turn a part of Access Industries, a privately held company owned by Ukrainian-born billionaire Len Blavatnik. At the end of the day, Blavatnik splits any royalties—rumored to be $2 million a year—with the Hill Foundation, which was founded by the song’s unmarried, childless writers and is under the control of the nonprofit Association for Childhood Education International. So while it’s a pain to have to pay royalties to sing to a friend, at least some of that cash is going to a good cause.