WE sing it all the time, but how many of us really know who actually wrote and arranged the all-time favourite Happy Birthday ? Or who controls the rights to it? And more importantly - do we have to pay to sing it? This is where music publishing, copyright and royalties come in. It is also where newly-established music publishers Warner/Chappell Music hopes to be able to come in. With the clamouring call for original compositions getting louder, Warner/Chappell believes it has just the thing to help meet market demands. 'Besides having a song catalogue of over one million released songs, including [those of] big names such as Elton John and Phil Collins, we have writers [around the world] who write exclusively for us,' said managing director Harry Hui. 'The ones that we find are commercially viable for the Hong Kong market, I will plug in Hong Kong.' By 'plugging' Mr Hui means that he will be approaching record producers with demo tapes and trying to get them interested in converting them into Canto-pop numbers. 'But these would be original compositions that have never been recorded before,' he said. 'We have writers such as Andy Goldmark, who have done songs for Michael Bolton and other singers. In effect, this means that singers or producers in Hong Kong will be listening to the same songs that big acts in the US will be listening to and will have the option of getting first mechanical rights to the song before the big names do.' In other words, if Andy Lau Tak-wah decides to buy a song that Janet Jackson liked as well, and he acts fast enough, Jackson might end up covering Lau. Despite being newly-established, Warner/Chappell is hardly the new kid on the block: it has a 15-year history in Hong Kong as part of Warner Music. But Mr Hui is quick to point out that, while it may be affiliated with recording company Warner Music, the publishing arm will be a 'totally independent concern'. 'While Warner Music and Warner/Chappell report to the same CEO in the US, we are two distinct [entities],' he said. 'We feel that the separation and distinction of music publishers and record companies is an important one because we can add value to the music business by being a place where you can shop for all sorts of good music.' Another positive effect that Mr Hui hopes Warner/Chappell's presence in Hong Kong might have would be to raise the standards of Hong Kong songwriters by offering them foreign competition on an equal footing, although this has been met with scepticism from some producers, such as EMI's James Wong. 'I don't see that there will be much difference,' he said. 'In music we must learn from others but if we just take the melody, we don't learn anything as far as the arrangements go. If that is the case, there are plenty of songs with good melodies. We might as well use cover versions.' Joseph Ip, a producer with PolyGram, however, thinks that having a publisher such as Warner/ Chappell could be a good thing as far as record production is concerned, because it would provide a wider choice of songs for producers to choose from. 'I personally would welcome them because we can certainly do with more songs,' Ip said. 'Of course, we are assuming everyone will have an equal choice of songs because, ultimately, Warner/Chappell is still affiliated to Warner. But if it is as independent as it says it is, we more than welcome it.' Mr Hui realises that such doubts are inevitable but reassured that the company would take an unbiased stand. 'Honestly speaking, each record company in Hong Kong has its own repertoire and each one has its own artists with their own personal sounds. Sometimes a certain song is suited to a certain artist. 'We will make the best commercial decision possible. We will take a song which we believe will be a hit and deliver it to the artist with the biggest potential of making it a hit. 'There has been a misconception that Warner/Chappell will only deal with Warner artists but we represent many songwriters who record for other companies. For instance, we represent Sheryl Crow and Elton John, who record for PolyGram. And, in fact, in the past three months, we have sold several songs to producers who are not from Warner Music.' Warner/Chappell intends to launch a full assault on the Asian market, covering Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and China. And, for those interested, Happy Birthday was written by Mildred and Patty Hill who own the rights to the original arrangement, but the song itself is public domain - so you don't have to pay copyright to sing it.