Netflix Sues “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” Creators for Trademark and Copyright Infringement

Netflix filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the creators of “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” on Friday, July 29, 2022, alleging trademark and copyright infringement.

Netflix owns registered trademarks and copyrights in the Bridgerton series, a series created by Shonda Rhimes based on Julia Quinn’s romance novels. The series is a 1800’s period romance drama “followin[ing] the young women and men of the prominent Bridgerton family as they navigate the high-society marriage market.” In early 2021, the series had been watched by 82 million households worldwide. The series was nominated for three Emmy Awards in 2022.

In early 2021, Bridgerton content began trending on TikTok when Abigail Barlow asked “What if ‘Bridgerton’ was a musical?” She posted a TikTok portraying a Bridgerton character singing “Daphne’s Song,” now called “Ocean Away.” The TikTok garnered 2.4 million views. Barlow then partnered with Emily Bear and the pair wrote 15 songs inspired by the series. These songs debuted in September 2021 and topped the iTunes pop albums chart. “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” album won the 2022 Grammy Award for best musical theater album, making Barlow and Bear the youngest nominees and winners of the category.

On July 26, 2022, “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Album Live in Concert” was performed to a sold-out audience at the Kennedy Center in New York, NY. According to Netflix’s complaint “[t]he live show featured over a dozen songs that copied verbatim dialogue, character traits and expression, and other elements from Bridgerton the series. . . Throughout the performance, Barlow and Bear misrepresented to the audience that they were using Netflix’s BRIDGERTON trademark ‘with Permission,’ while Netflix vigorously objected.” Barlow and Bear announced they intend to perform the unofficial musical at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The pair have also promoted their own line of themed merchandise.

The complaint argues that Barlow and Bear created unauthorized derivative works that copy from Netflix’s Bridgerton series. To support the claim that Barlow and Bear “copied liberally and nearly identically from Bridgerton across a number of original elements of expression,” the complaint provides evidence that “[l]yrics are lifted verbatim from dialogue and characters, and plot, pace, sequence of events, mood, setting, and themes.” Netflix did not authorize the musical album, nor did it give Barlow and Bear permission to perform the album live.

Barlow and Bear have admitted that they do not own the intellectual property. Barlow and Bear’s attorneys, however, “have now taken the position that they somehow do not need a license because Netflix did not file this lawsuit sooner.” The complaint states that Netflix repeatedly informed Barlow and Bear’s representative that it did not authorize or approve of Barlow and Bear’s work. However, “in the spirit of supporting what Barlow and Bear represented as two Bridgerton fans’ expression of their appreciation for the series, it stated that it was ‘not standing in the way.'” No ongoing authorization or license was ever sought or granted.

The complaint alleges causes of action for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and false designation of origin. The complaint seeks relief in the form of a declaratory judgment, a preliminary and permanent injunction, damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Additional Reading

Netflix sues ‘Bridgerton’ musical creators for infringement, The Washington Post (July 31, 2022)

Netflix Worldwide Entertainment, LLC et al v. Barlow et al (Case No. 1:2022cv02247)

Complaint in Netflix Worldwide Entertainment, LLC eta al v. Barlow et al

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