“Bridgerton” lives for scandal — and now a popular TikTok musical parody of the Netflix hit is being sued for copyright and trademark infringement.
Musicians and songwriters Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear went viral with their “what if ‘Bridgerton’ were a musical” passion project in 2021, posting a series of TikTok videos that reimagined the steamy Netflix
series — which follows the sometimes scandalous courtship rituals of high society in early 1800s England — as a musical. Their tracklist inspired by the Netflix adaptation of Julia Quinn’s bodice-ripper book series, which was produced by “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes, grew into a 15-song album released on Spotify
that even won the 2022 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
Netflix, Rhimes and Quinn were among the many people loving the musical tribute — at first. The streaming giant tweeted in January 2021 from its official Twitter
account that it was “absolutely blown away” by the “Bridgerton” musical trending on TikTok.
But now Netflix and Co. are changing their tune in light of “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” officially migrating offline and into in-person events, calling the fan-made parody a “blatant infringement” of the intellectual property of the Netflix series and the books it is based on. On Friday, Netflix filed a lawsuit against the musical creators and their company, Barlow & Bear, in Washington, D.C. federal court for copyright and trademark infringement. This followed “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical’s” sold-out show at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. last Tuesday. Tickets to the live, in-person performance ran up to $149 each, with some VIP packages reportedly running higher. And the duo has another show planned for London’s Royal Albert Hall in September.
““There is a difference … between composing on TikTok and recording and performing for commercial gain.” ”
— “Bridgerton” author Julia Quinn
Season one of “Bridgerton” was Netflix’s most-watched series before “Squid Game” and the fourth season of “Stranger Things” bumped it. And the new lawsuit claims that Barlow, Bear and their company “have taken valuable intellectual property from the Netflix original series ‘Bridgerton’ to build an international brand for themselves.”
“‘Bridgerton’ reflects the creative work and hard- earned success of hundreds of artists and Netflix employees,” the suit continues. “Netflix owns the exclusive right to create ‘Bridgerton’ songs, musicals, or any other derivative works based on ‘Bridgerton.’ Barlow & Bear cannot take that right — made valuable by others’ hard work — for themselves, without permission. Yet that is exactly what they have done.”
The lawsuit also called out Barlow & Bear’s sales of “Bridgerton”-branded merchandise at the Kennedy Center and online. As of Monday afternoon, however, the only merch on Barlow & Bear’s site was their own branded t-shirts and accessories.
““The creators, cast, writers and crew have poured their hearts and souls into ‘Bridgerton,’ and we’re taking action to protect their rights.””
A Netflix spokesperson told MarketWatch over email that while the company supports fan-generated content, “Barlow & Bear have taken this many steps further, seeking to create multiple revenue streams for themselves without formal permission to utilize the Bridgerton IP.” The statement added that Netflix has “tried hard to work with Barlow & Bear,” but “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” creators “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,” the Netflix rep added.
Representatives for Barlow & Bear were not immediately available for comment.
Netflix also shared a statement from Rhimes, who wrote that, “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,” Rhimes 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.’”
“ “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.” ”
— Shonda Rhimes
And author Quinn shared a similar sentiment in a statement with MarketWatch. “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 wrote. “There is a difference, however, between composing on TikTok and recording and performing for commercial gain. 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 suit comes on the heels of Netflix’s Q2 earnings report, which found the streaming service still shedding subscribers (although not as many as the company had feared), and planning to crack down on password-sharing, and to add an advertising-supported streaming tier to stem losses.