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‘The Blatant Taking of Intellectual Property’: Shonda Rhimes Takes Sides In Netflix’s Lawsuit Against Creators of ‘The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical’ for Copyright Infringement

Netflix is suing the creators of “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” for copyright infringement. Earlier this week, songwriters Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear organized a paid showcase based on the Netflix series on July 26.

The duo performed in front of a sold-out crowd at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Attendees paid $149 for tickets and even more for VIP, but the problem is Barlow and Bear didn’t get permission from Netflix, the streaming giant that streams the hit series “Bridgerton.” Netflix owns the exclusive right to create all things “Bridgerton” — from songs to musicals.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 22: Shonda Rhimes attends the “Bridgerton” Series 2 World Premiere at Tate Modern on March 22, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

Creator Shonda Rhimes is the executive producer of “Bridgerton,” which came to Netflix through her Shondaland production company. 

In the lawsuit, obtained by Deadline, the streaming platform claims the “for profit” show used the show’s intellectual property without their permission. Netflix objected to Barlow and Bear’s “Bridgerton”-themed merchandise and accused Barlow and Bear of building “an international brand for themselves.”

The complaint adds that some songs and language are “verbatim from dialogue and characters” in the popular series down to “plot, pace, sequence of events, mood, setting, and themes are replicated faithfully.” 

“Netflix owns the exclusive right to create ‘Bridgerton’ songs, musicals, or any other derivative works based on ‘Bridgerton,’” the suit stated. “Throughout the performance, Barlow & Bear misrepresented to the audience that they were using Netflix’s ‘Bridgerton’ trademark ‘with permission,’ while Netflix vigorously objected. It is a blatant infringement of intellectual property rights.”

“The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” first went viral on TikTok and later as a concept album that won a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album. Netflix’s lawsuit also claims they offered Barlow and Bear a license to use the songs, but they refused. The duo also has recently announced an upcoming performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall alongside the notable BBC orchestra in September.

Rhimes Takes Sides

Rhimes defended Netflix’s decision to sue the viral TikTok creators.

In a statement to Deadline, she 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. She continued, “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.'”

Meanwhile, Julia Quinn, author of the best-selling “Bridgerton” book series, explained the difference between doing it for social media and “commercial gain” in her response.

“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,” she said. “There is a difference, however, between composing on TikTok and recording and performing for commercial gain.”

Quinn continued, “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.”

The Question of Intellectual Property

Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects the “original works of authorship,” such as paintings, musicals, movies, literary works and more. In some criminal copyright infringement cases any work with “a retail value of more than $2,500″ can receive penalties including imprisonment for up to five years and fines up to $250,000, or both.

Background on Bridgerton Experiences

Netflix could likely be worried Barlow and Bear’s performance may distract fans from attending their curated “Bridgerton Experiences.”

The events dubbed “A Queen’s Ball” are hosted in six different cities in partnership with events company, Fever and Rhimes’ Shondaland Production company. Attendees are encouraged to take a step back in time and dress like their favorite characters from the magical series. Ticket prices are less than what Barlow and Bear charged for their performance — $45 for general and $85 for V.I.P.

“Bridgerton” aired season two earlier this year in March. The Netflix series has also been renewed for a third and fourth, with each season based on a different “Bridgerton” sibling and their journey to find romance. 

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