It started so well. A fan-made TikTok musical tribute to Netflix’s “Bridgerton” that heats up into a lavish suite of songs in a concept album with roses from the streamer. The romance blossomed with a record-breaking performance at the Grammy Awards.
But oh how fickle love can be.
Netflix is suing the creators of The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical for copyright and trademark infringement after the project transitioned to paid live performances. In court filings filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia on Friday, the streamer alleges, “Defendants Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear and their companies (‘Barlow & Bear’) took valuable intellectual property from the Netflix original series Bridgerton to help them build an international brand of their own.”
It started as love from afar. Barlow, an aspiring pop singer-songwriter, and Bear, a former child prodigy with an impressive résumé as a composer and performer who counts Quincy Jones among her mentors, had been working together on another music project when they became “Bridgerton” fans. Barlow posted a TikTok video in January 2021 reflecting on what it would be like if Netflix’s hit show (the streamer says it’s been watched by 82 million households) was a musical. In the video, she sang a bit like a song she and Bear wrote along those lines, and included dialogue from the show.
“It was inspired by a line of dialogue on the TV show that really inspired me, and it was basically poetry the way the dialogues are written, so I wrote the first song, ‘Ocean Away,’ and that’s how it came about. Barlow told Entertainment Weekly in February after the pair produced 14 songs in a month.
Then came the cute meeting: a swept off his feet Netflix tweeted an excerpt from one of the songs, saying it was “absolutely blown away” by the work done by Barlow, Bear and co. and giving the singers a “standing ovation.”
The whole affair unfolded in the public eye, with Instagram and TikTok posts following the making of the songs and even inviting viewers to contribute during live streams. As of September, her work was reportedly viewed 200 million times on TikTok. The eventual concept album made the Billboard Top 40 and reached #1 on iTunes — and became the first TikTok-generated project to win a Grammy for a musical theater album. Barlow (now 20) and Bear (now 23) were the youngest nominees and winners in this category. How magical was your night? Andrew Lloyd Webber tweeted about meeting them and “singalongs around the piano.” It seemed to be an all round love fest.
But oh how can love turn to hate. And like so many love affairs, this one seems to end up in court.
In Friday’s filing (as published on Deadline), Netflix stated, “On July 26, 2022, despite Netflix’s repeated objections, Barlow & Bear staged a massive, for-profit stage show entitled ‘The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Album Live in Concert.’ — to a sold-out crowd at the Kennedy Center, with tickets valued at up to $149 each and VIP packages. The live show featured over a dozen songs that literally copied dialogue, character traits and expressions, and other elements from Bridgerton, the series… Barlow & Bear misrepresented to audiences that they were using Netflix’s BRIDGERTON trademark “with permission.” , while Netflix strenuously disagreed.”
The brouhaha contains all the elements of a steamy corset ripper: passion, promises and claims of deceit and lies.
The lawsuit asserts Netflix’s “exclusive right to authorize derivative works based on the series” and notes that Barlow and Bear were among many (“countless other fans”) who posted tribute content on social media.
“Following direct inquiries, Netflix repeatedly told Barlow & Bear that such works were unauthorized,” the lawsuit continues. Barlow & Bear decided to take this knowledge and release an album recording entitled The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical. At each step, Barlow & Bear representatives repeatedly assured Netflix that they understood Netflix’s position and led Netflix to believe that Netflix would be consulted before Barlow & Bear took any steps regarding streaming their album online in the audio format… Barlow & Bear Bear’s representations were incorrect.”
For those wondering why the streamer didn’t sue earlier, perhaps when the album came out, the lawsuit reads, “Barlow & Bear’s attorneys have now taken the position that somehow they don’t need a license because Netflix does.” did not file a lawsuit earlier. That’s not how copyright works. Netflix doesn’t have to sue every infringer. Rather, it can make its rights known – which it has unequivocally and repeatedly done here.”
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that when Netflix learned of the company’s intention to create an album of the songs, it “tried to give them a clear line: Netflix officials emphasized to the Barlow & Bear representative that Netflix would not authorize and would not authorize them to participate in live performances (e.g. performances of ‘The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical’) or other derivative works that might compete with live events scheduled by Netflix itself,” such as The Streamer’s The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience.
Aside from showing at the Kennedy Center, the musical has a “concert” date at the Royal Albert Hall in September.
Netflix is requesting the following: “Explanatory help to determine Netflix’s rights… Preliminary and permanent injunctive relief… Indemnity available at.” [infringement statutes] … reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs of action and interest … and … such other and further remedies as this court thinks equitable and equitable.”
Barlow and Bear had not responded to the lawsuit at the time of publication. However, the streamer had more to say in a statement attributed to a Netflix spokesperson: “Netflix supports fan-generated content, but Barlow & Bear have gone so many steps further and have attempted multiple revenue streams for themselves without formal permission to create Use the Bridgerton IP. We have tried very hard to work with Barlow & Bear but they have refused to cooperate. The creators, cast, writers and crew put their hearts and souls into Bridgerton and we are taking steps to protect their rights.”
The show’s creator, Shonda Rimes, issued a statement of her own: “It’s so joyful to see audiences fall in love with Bridgerton and see them express their fandom in creative ways. What started as a hilarious celebration of Barlow & Bear on social media has turned into a blatant expropriation of intellectual property for Barlow & Bear’s sole financial gain. This property was created by Julia Quinn and brought to life on screen through the hard work of countless people. Just as Barlow & Bear would not allow others to appropriate their intellectual property for profit, Netflix cannot stand by and allow Barlow & Bear to do the same to Bridgerton.”
And Julia Quinn, author of the book series the series is based on, said: “Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear are incredibly talented and I was flattered and delighted when they started composing and sharing Bridgerton songs with other fans on TikTok . However, there is a difference between composing on TikTok and recording and performing for commercial purposes. I hope that Barlow & Bear, who share my position as independent creative professionals, will understand the need to protect the intellectual property of other professionals, including the characters and stories I created in the Bridgerton novels over twenty years ago.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-07-31/the-unofficial-bridgerton-musical-is-officially-being-sued ‘The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical’ is officially being sued