The Weather Outside Is Frightful, But Caroling Is Copyrightful.

Before you grab your warmest mittens, most spirited bells and sheet music, be sure to carefully choose this seasons melodies. When the time comes for figgy pudding, candy canes and a Santa Clause on every street corner, this Christmas “the best way to spread Christmas Cheer [by] singing loud for all to hear” (Elf, 2003) could get you into trouble.

Ever wonder why restaurants like Applebees or Fridays have their own birthday melodies? Well, it is not because they are bursting from the seams with creativity. Restaurants create their own birthday songs avoid paying to use the song “Happy Birthday.” Happy Birthday is a copyrighted song, which means any public forum where it is sung infringes on copyright laws if you were not given the right to use  that content.

Similar to the way “Happy Birthday” is copyrighted, certain Christmas songs also fall under this law. This is not the case for all songs, many in fact are public domain. This article Which popular Christmas songs are still protected by copyright? written by Chris Robley was posted by Shannon Morgan (@shannoncara) on Twitter, to give us some insight on the legalities of singing copyrighted songs when caroling.


Here are a few examples of copyrighted songs vs. public domain:

Public Domain


Deck the Halls Carol of the Bells
Jingle Bells Feliz Navidad
12 Days of Christmas Frost the Snowman
Silent Night Rudolf The Red Nose Reindeer


Like Happy Birthday, these Christmas Carols cannot be sung in public, at a business and even at a charity without the rights first being obtained and could result in being sued otherwise. Most Christmas songs have been remade time and time again because they are a classic genre that people only really spend 1 month out of the year listening too. For example, the song “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” originally recorded by Vaughn Monroe, is currently copyrighted but has had roughly 82 (legal) remakes by from artists like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby to Blake Shelton and Lady Antebellum.

We understand that “the law grants an exclusive right to copy, sell, and perform a work of original authorship that has been fixed in a tangible medium” (Vaidhyanathan, 20) and only lasts for a limited time, but with the high volume of reproduction, why is it so important to keep Christmas songs from becoming public domain? Copyrights are to protect the creativity of an artist and make sure they get credit for what they have produced, but the truth is that people are violating copyright laws every day, possibly without even realizing. Below, this great display of Christmas spirit being in violation of copyright because the song being played in a public forum is not public domain.

            Getting a license is not that incredibly difficult, only costing approximately $28 per song to reproduce when the rights are purchased according to However, if carolers want to walk around singing Christmas songs without profit, why should it be such a big deal? If anything, carolers are extremely beneficial to  the original artist because they are promoting their work. In conclusion, free the Christmas songs!

by @deannabertini



8 thoughts on “The Weather Outside Is Frightful, But Caroling Is Copyrightful.

  1. The act that “Happy Birthday” is copyrighted is still mind-blowing to me. However, I never would’ve thought of Christmas carols being copyrighted. Like you wrote, they are only listened to for about maybe one to two months out of the year. For such a small amount of time, I see no reason for these carols to be copyrighted. They are mostly, if not all, easily memorized by almost every American citizen. They are a part of our culture when it comes to the holidays. I see no reason for these carols to be copyrighted. I think they should all be in the public domain for the sake of everyone in the country.Plus, who wants a copyright lawsuit for Christmas?


  2. First of all, the title of this article is very witty and clever. But it is interesting because I never knew that certain Christmas carols were still copyrighted. Every year my old high school sings Christmas carols at our local mall and the one we’re most famous for, and that all the alumni who come and watch even particpate in, is Carol of The Bells. I wonder if they are violating copyright laws or not because it is technically the school choir.
    Interesting insight and I definitely think Christmas carols, not Christmas singles, should not be copyrighted due to their popularity and wide use.


  3. This was actually really interesting to read. As we learn more and more about copyright, I am constantly looking at things and wondering if they are legal. Should I be using these video, or playing these songs is a constant question I have now. After reading this I look back on my childhood and remember caroling as a Girl Scout troop and it’s scary that has a nine year old girl I could have been sued!! I guess a new question I have is when does the law decide to crack down on people or when do they let it slide?


  4. I thought this blog was not only insightful to just how far copyright laws go, but also entertaining. I had absolutely no idea that the “Happy Birthday” song was copyrighted, and I feel as though that is a bit ridiculous. Imagine being charged a fee every time you sang a song to a friend or a family member. Knowing that gives more insight to why places like Applebees create there own song for customers. I had always thought it was because they wanted to be “original” lol, not because they were forced to do that or pay up. It’s sad how our world really revolves around money, and this just proves it.


  5. It’s a shame to have these songs reigned in so heavily from general use. Theres a bad balance between use and rights and it never skews toward the users. I can;t imagine a group of carolers being sued though seeing as there is no monitory amount gained from them singing.


  6. This post is very informative. I never even realized restaurants such as Applebee’s create a personal Happy Birthday song because of copyright! I just assumed every restaurant had a special song. This is really something to think about. I hear Christmas songs played all over around the holidays and never imagined someone being in trouble for playing them. What about major stores like Macys and Target. They often play famous holiday songs. Do they do something special in order to be safe on copyright? Music is made to be played and spread all over. I find it kind of sad that people have to be so cautious of playing songs, etc.


  7. I am so happy that you found and used this article! I found out this past summer that “Happy Birthday” was actually copyrighted when at the restaurant I worked at had an emergency meeting to make us stop singing it to guests. At first I thought they were just party poopers (after all it was a more upscale restaurant, not an AppleBees) but then they said that we really we’re not allowed and if we wanted to write our own song then we could use it. So we did. But, then I found out most of my favorite Christmas songs fell in the same category of unusable and I was so upset. This article really helped me understand copyright laws because I was able to relate to the information, instead of just hearing that it cant be used over and over again. I really feel that we should free the Christmas songs and not kill the holiday spirit, but if keeping them locked up means that more people will write their own for me to add to my collection I am not that mad!


  8. I would have never guessed that all those songs were copyrighted. I honestly feel like this takes copyrighting laws to an entire new level. I can not even imagine paying every time I want to sing any Christmas song or even sing happy birthday to someone. It’s crazy that this is mentioned because my church actually has their own version of “Happy Birthday” and I wonder if it is because they did not want to pay for the original song or are they just being very creative Christians? haha


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