Netflix Sues Songwriters Behind Unauthorized ‘Bridgerton’ Musical After For-Pay Performance

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Netflix is suing the songwriting team behind the unauthorized “Bridgerton” musical for infringement, court documents filed Friday in a Washington, DC US District Court revealed.

Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear created the homage to the smash hit Netflix show in 2021 with a series of music videos posted to TikTok. The record streamed more than 45 million times, hit No. 1 on iTunes US pop charts, and won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album in 2022.

Netflix initially supported the idea when it debuted as a free online tribute. The problem between them began on July 26, 2022, when Barlow and Bear staged what Netflix says is a “for-profit” performance of “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Album Live in Concert” for a sold-out crowd at the Kennedy Center, with tickets ranging up to $149 each.

According to the lawsuit, the live show featured over a dozen songs with verbatim dialogue from the series, along with “dramatic portrayals of ‘Bridgerton’ characters by Broadway actors, emoting through the performance of the songs that comprise the ‘musical.’” Netflix says Barlow and Bear “misrepresented to the audience that they were using Netflix’s BRIDGERTON trademark ‘with Permission,’ while Netflix vigorously objected.”

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“Defendants Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear and their companies (“Barlow & Bear”) have taken valuable intellectual property from the Netflix original series Bridgerton to build an international brand for themselves,” the lawsuit stated. “Bridgerton reflects the creative work and hard-earned success of hundreds of artists and Netflix employees. Netflix owns the exclusive right to create Bridgerton songs, musicals, or any other derivative works based on Bridgerton. Barlow & Bear cannot take that right—made valuable by others’ hard work—for themselves, without permission. Yet that is exactly what they have done.”

Now, the suit says, Barlow and Bear “announced they intend to stage yet another performance of their unauthorized derivative works at the Royal Albert Hall in London, making this a world tour.” In addition, the suit claims that the team even promoted their own line of “Bridgerton”-themed merchandise.

Netflix is asking to be “entitled to recover its reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs of suit and interest” and “be awarded any and all such other and further relief as this Court shall deem just and proper.”

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.

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Update: July 30, 2022:

“Netflix supports fan-generated content, but Barlow & Bear have taken this many steps further, seeking to create multiple revenue streams for themselves without formal permission to utilize the Bridgerton IP. We’ve tried hard to work with Barlow & Bear, and they have refused to cooperate,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement provided to TheWrap. “The creators, cast, writers and crew have poured their hearts and souls into Bridgerton, and we’re taking action to protect their rights.”

In a statement, Shonda Rhimes, whose company, Shondaland, is behind the hit Netflix series, said: “There is so much joy in seeing audiences fall in love with Bridgerton and watching the creative ways they express their fandom.  What started as a fun celebration by Barlow & Bear on social media has turned into the blatant taking of intellectual property solely for Barlow & Bear’s financial benefit.  This property was created by Julia Quinn and brought to life on screen through the hard work of countless individuals. Just as Barlow & Bear would not allow others to appropriate their IP for profit, Netflix cannot stand by and allow Barlow & Bear to do the same with Bridgerton.”

Author Julia Quinn said in a statement: “Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear are wildly talented, and I was flattered and delighted when they began composing Bridgerton songs and sharing with other fans on TikTok. There is a difference, however, between composing on TikTok and recording and performing for commercial gain. I would hope that Barlow & Bear, who share my position as independent creative professionals, understand the need to protect other professionals’ intellectual property, including the characters and stories I created in the Bridgerton novels over twenty years ago.”

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