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Three Things Your Fairy Godfather Says You Can't Use Because They're Already Copyrighted, Trademarked or Patented

Updated on February 11, 2012

© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.

I hope you don’t mind that the fairy godfather moniker up in the title because the phrase was just getting too long. And my warning is far more important than my credit because moi doesn’t want any of his little charges to get into trouble. Simply put, you can’t use any of these three things in your writings or videos or websites or anything else for free because some smarties beat you to it. You’ll have to pay beaucoup bucks if you want these babies in your crib.

Happy Birthday

This de rigueur ditty at the passing of your years was created by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill back in 1893. Patty herded the kiddies as principal of a kindergarten in Louisville, Kentrucky, while Mildred focused on piano-playing and composing. They created the song Good Morning to All so the little darlings could learn something that was easy to sing. The Happy Birthday lyrics to that melody didn’t appear in print until 1912.

Patty, the last member of the writing team, passed away in 1946, so the copyright is going to expire in Europe in 2016 and in the U.S.A. in 2030. Meanwhile, Warner/Chappell Music vigorously defends the song’s use against all comers. They’re not going to come after you for singing the tune at your Aunt Mathilda’s birthday bash. But don’t think about putting it in a video, website or other multimedia. Or you may find yourself on the wrong end of a judge’s gavel.



Here’s a perfectly lovely word that was coined by French economist Jean-Baptiste Say in the early 1800s. But back then you couldn’t copyright or trademark perfectly lovely words so anybody could use the term wherever and whenever they wanted. Enter Chase Revel, founder of Entrepreneur Magazine, a rag that purports to support the small tradesman. In 1979, he successfully got a U.S. trademark for entrepreneur.

Did he invent it? change it? improve it? No, no and no. But that didn’t matter to the person at the Copyright Office who was asleep at the approval atelier. Yes, you can still use entrepreneur in your writings or when talking about self-made soloists who launch successful ventures. Just don’t put it in your website name or a public award like “Entrepreneur of the Year.” Or else one of Revel’s 2,000+ corporate lawyers will land on you like a house on an evil witch. Seems Revel is all for small businesspeople but only when they don’t dip into his coffers.


Breast and Ovarian Cancer Genes

Whether think God or the Devil created the breast and ovarian cancer genes, they evolved from natural processes, we can all agree that human beings didn’t use their magic hands to make them appear. So how come Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation holds patents to these biological baddies? This authority is only granted to something original and manmade.

Neither you nor I will ever be wanting to include these genes in anything we craft or sell at the swap meat. But what about all the doctors, researchers, students and women’s health groups who want to study the things to prevent the disease? By law, they can’t get their mitts on the stuff without the permission of the patent holders. It doesn’t matter if they offer tons of gold. If Myriad or the University of Utah say no, then it’s no touchee.

The ACLU has taken the fracas all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. I’ll be waiting with bated breath for the decision, which I’ll promptly report. Put my little written effort on Follow if you want to receive that herald when it arrives.


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    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Fortunately, these things will eventually fall out of copyright, though maybe not in our lifetimes.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Aloscin - Fascinating information and history. But some of the things which are patented and the people who patented them are simply infuriating. How selfish they are...some things should be for the general benefit of humanity. Excellent article. I will be waiting to hear more. Glad you are following this important topic.

    • formosangirl profile image

      formosangirl 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Lot of interesting facts. Voted up and interesting.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I didn't know this either. But believe me I don't want to get sued. So I will not be singing "Happy Birthday" in proximity to a camera/recorder. And not saying entrepreneur is just ridiculous but then again I don't make the laws. Voted up and interesting.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Thank you both for reading.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      What an interesting article. This is very informative and I am glad I read it. I have applied for copyright for some stories and poetry I have written - and it will take nearly 9 months of waiting before I get my copyright. That is how backed up the copyright office in DC is right now. How ridiculous is that?

      Good article and very well written.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

      Isn't it frustrating that people can take ownership of a word or words so easily? Thanks for an interesting article!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Brupie, you are correct with that. Parody of copyrighted works is allowed under U.S. law. And thanks for visiting Tammy.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow.. I did not know these things. It is getting so out of hand and now with Sopa it will soon be a copy write infringement to cough and sneeze. Thank you for alerting us to this.

    • Brupie profile image

      Brupie 5 years ago

      A business professor once told me that intellectual property (copyright, trademark or patent) is really only worth what the owner is willing to spend to defend it.

      There are also many circumstances where a intellectual property is almost impossible to defend, for example when someone takes a copyrighted tune and parodies it.