The ‘Unofficial Bridgerton Musical’ is being sued for copyright infringement by Netflix

Netflix’s steamy series Bridgerton is a huge hit that’s spurred a lot of fans, fantasies, and fan-made content. And apparently it also inspired a whole musical. Two women, singer-songwriter Abigail Barlow and composer-pianist Emily Bear, have created a 15-song musical based on the series. What started out as a passion project on social media has become an iTunes-topping, Grammy-winning album with an accompanying stage show performed at the Kennedy Center. The stage show contains many elements “exactly copied” from Bridgerton and now Netflix is suing for copyright infringement.

The team behind an unofficial “Bridgerton” musical is being sued for infringement by Netflix in a Washington, D.C. U.S. District Court.

Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, the songwriting team behind the project, initially developed the musical on social media. The duo went on to score the No. 1 slot on iTunes U.S. pop charts and even won a Grammy this year in the category of best musical theater album.

Netflix alleges that it made “repeated objections” against the team as they planned to mount a live stage show of the project. “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Album Live in Concert” performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. earlier this week, selling out the venue with ticket prices that ranged up to $149.

The stage show reportedly featured more than a dozen songs that involved exactly copied dialogue, character traits, expression and other elements from “Bridgerton.”

The streamer alleges that “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Album Live in Concert” misrepresented to audiences that it used the “Bridgerton” trademark “with permission.” Netflix also objects to an allegedly planned line of merchandise and the production’s upcoming tour dates.

Representatives for Barlow & Bear were not immediately available for comment on the lawsuit.

“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,” Netflix wrote in a statement. “We’ve tried hard to work with Barlow & Bear, and they have refused to cooperate. The creators, cast, writers and crew have poured their hearts and souls into ‘Bridgerton’ and we’re taking action to protect their rights.”

“There is so much joy in seeing audiences fall in love with ‘Bridgerton’ and watching the creative ways they express their fandom,” Shonda Rhimes, creator of the “Bridgerton” series, said. “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.’”

[From Variety]

Apparently, Netflix began to object when Barlow & Bear started planning the stage show at the Kennedy Center, for which tickets cost as much as $149. In their statement, Netflix notes their support of fan-made content, but takes issue with the duo’s monetization of the Bridgerton intellectual property without permission and refusal to cooperate with Netflix. Shonda Rhimes made a similar statement, which also emphasized the author of the book series and the team working on the TV series. I’ve perused fan-made content for other fandoms in my time and this unofficial musical does seem to go far beyond the projects fans make for fun. (I checked out some of their songs/videos and found it to be pretty corny and twee, but to each their own, I suppose.) For something unofficial, it seems pretty official and polished. It’s not like it’s just some videos on social media and a performance at the local community theatre — it’s on iTunes, won a Grammy, and was performed at the Kennedy Center. It makes perfect sense that Netflix would sue. I wonder what exactly happened with Netflix outreach and Barlow & Bear allegedly refusing to cooperate.

Photos credit: Liam Daniel for Netflix and via Instagram

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14 Responses to “The ‘Unofficial Bridgerton Musical’ is being sued for copyright infringement by Netflix”

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  1. Emmi says:

    This is weird. I have also spent time in a few fandoms. Mostly for fanfic. There was a miniseries I loved (and the fanfic was my crack) that was based on real people. The fanfic was … well, not based on the real people but the show. which was based on a book. Those people then objected to the fanfic and I kinda get that. I also know of one author who absolutely does not condone fanfic and is pretty ruthless about it. Others only objected to the use of their characters for fun while they were perfectly okay with a tv show.

    I have never heard of people taking characters etc. and doing this? You can’t just slap “unofficial” on it and think it’s fine. This is so weird. I guess the closest would be 50 Shades of Foolery.

  2. girl_ninja says:

    I’m not surprised at all by this, just that it took this long. I don’t know how you think you can put together a full composition of music based on this material in Bridgerton and think your gonna get away with it. When I first stumbled across them I’d only heard one song and thought how fun and cute. It wasn’t until much later I found out about the full album!

    Some people are super entitled and I though talented and enthusiastic these young women are just that, entitled.

  3. Cel2495 says:

    Wow, these singers are totally entitled. One thing is to be a fan and make sure videos but to fully put a whole show together based in someone’s else words and project and to have the audacity to refuse to sit down or discuss remuneration or whatever with the creators of such content is outrageous. I would be kissed and suing their pants off. Regardless of you like or not the series , that’s their content based on a book that they paid the author for, not these singers. I am an artist and hurts my core when stuff like this happens.

  4. goofpuff says:

    This is pretty blatant copyright infringement and not even a parody or fanfic anymore. They are profiting greatly off of the author Julia and Shonda’s work and not fairly compensating them for their use of their intellectual property. greed and fame went to these entitled women’s heads and they ceased being fans.

  5. Abby says:

    I’m a writer, but I don’t quite understand all of the rules of copyright. How did this musical get this far as to be charging so much for tickets for a show based on another show… but “unofficially” ??? Did no one check to see if this was legal before it got this far?

    • Wiglet Watcher says:

      I’m assuming these 2 had a legal back and forth with Netflix for some time given the wording in the statement, but just kept moving forward. Sometimes it’s just a cash grab until they make you stop.

    • Becks1 says:

      that’s what I’m wondering….how this got so far. Kennedy Center? They won a Grammy? honestly I’m surprised its taken netflix this long to sue but it sounds like there has been a lot of back and forth and rather than wait for the legalities to be settled these women just pushed ahead. I just listened to the opening song and wow……it really is beyond just fan fiction or something.

    • Malificent says:

      Definitely not a lawyer, but I deal with this in my work. My understanding is that copyright and trademark infringement is only a problem if the party being infringed decides that it’s a problem for them and chooses to take legal action.

      So, they got this far because Netflix was indulging them as creators of fanfic, which is good marketing and PR on Netflix’s part. But now that they are setting up a serious profit-generating model, Netflix is drawing the line.

  6. Izzy says:

    I mean, if these two really are songwriters, then they should understand the basic principles of copyright law and how egregiously they have misappropriated Netflix’s IP. They probably thought Netflix wouldn’t sue two little up-and-comers and if they did, the story would play out like a Davis vs Goliath. They effed around, now they’re gonna find out. And the Kennedy Center, which makes such a big deal about honoring artists every year, should be embarrassed that they allowed this full-on showcase of thievery to go on.

  7. Hopey says:

    Some copyright owners wait to seek legal remedies against theft of their IP until the thief makes a huge profit.

    To do otherwise wd cost some IP owners (usually artists/creators who dont hv Netflix’s heft) more than they can afford in legal fees etc.
    Gotta do the cost-benefit analysis first. AND teach the thief a lesson.

  8. Nanea says:

    There’s fair use, and then there’s unfair use.

    I have no idea how Barlow & Bear thought it was okay to keep pushing on with all those extra projects *after* they’d been contacted by Netflix.

    At the same time I’m surprised they managed to convince the Kennedy Center that everything would be aboveboard. Or maybe KC just didn’t care? But *unofficial* in conjunction with a fairly well-known project should have set off alarm bells.

    That it didn’t, and that artists think they can get away with profiting off of other artists’ intellectual properties *and* hard work after being made aware of possible consequences, will be discussed in law school courses for years to come.

    • Green girl says:

      Yeah, how does it get to this point with awards, performances etc. without any kind of due diligence?

      I have heard of some authors offering a license deal of sorts if fans create items for profit (like someone selling shirts about a favorite book series on Etsy). I realize that wouldn’t be an option here, but it’s interesting to see the kinds of deals that can be brokered.

    • Izzy says:

      The Kennedy Center, which honors artists with an awards ceremony every year, should be embarrassed AF that they allowed this to move forward. IP rights are a cornerstone for artists, and it doesn’t matter if Netflix is a giant, they own the IP and have paid for its development.

  9. Hootenannie says:

    It’s entirely possible that Netflix was waiting to see if the creators would make bank before suing – after all they’re losing subscribers left and right.

    Even if waiting this long was motivated by profit, this was a good call. It’s not some mega corporation squashing the little guy just trying to pay homage. This is a company fighting back after being brushed off and taken advantage of.