Popular Netflix Series, Bridgerton, Inspires Imitation, But Netflix Loses Its Patience with Fan Flattery
Netflix released the wildly popular television series named Bridgerton in December of 2020, produced by the successful Shonda Rhimes. The show is set in the Regency era (1811 -1820) in the city of London and explores the romantic life of Daphne Bridgerton. By 2021, the series was watched by 82 million households worldwide. Netflix owns the exclusive rights to everything related to Bridgerton, including the music. Where Netflix owns the copyright, it also owns the rights to “derivative works,” under the Copyright Act. Derivative works are works which “derive” from prior creative work.
As the series gained popularity, many fans took to social media to create “fan fiction” videos based on the series. Fanfiction is where fans create storylines and content using pre-existing popular characters in a popular creative work. Fanfiction is, by its very nature, a “derivative work.”
Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear are the owners of Barlow & Bear, a company which brings musical theatre to the mainstream. In December 2020, Barlow & Bear started posting about Bridgerton on TikTok. They included musical compositions and dialogue from the series. Barlow & Bear then released an album titled “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical.”
In March 2021, Barlow & Bear asked Netflix for authorization to perform a recorded album at a U.K charity event, and although Netflix gave no explicit authorization, Netflix stated that it would not stand in their way. Then, as news came forth that Barlow & Bear would be releasing a Spotify album based on Bridgerton in late 2021, Netflix finally requested Barlow & Bear to stop. Barlow & Bear assured Netflix that they would.
Usually, entertainment companies do not like to alienate their fans, even when somewhat overzealous like Barlow & Bear. However, when Barlow & Bear announced their “Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” scheduled for July 26, 2022, at the Kennedy Center and then a September 2022 performance in London as well, Netflix had had enough. On July 29, 2022, Netflix filed suit against Barlow & Bear for copyright infringement, infringement of registered trademarks, and false designation of origin.
According to the complaint filed in Washington DC, Barlow & Bear were not willing to negotiate a license (despite Netflix’s willingness). The complaint further alleges that Barlow & Bear have previously admitted that they own no intellectual property rights but later took the position they didn’t need a license for their usage because Netflix did not take action against them earlier.
As of September 23, 2022, Netflix dismissed their action against Barlow & Bear as Barlow & Bear have canceled their September 2022 performance and reached a settlement.
Netflix was represented by Ginger D. Anders, Rose Leda Ehler, and Virginia Grace Davis of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.
Counsel information for the defendants wasn’t available.
The case is Netflix Worldwide Entertainment LLC et al. v. Abigail Barlow et al., case number 1:22-cv-02247, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
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