Last year, songwriters Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear released the Unofficial Bridgerton Musical, a concept album inspired by Shonda Rhimes’ Regency-era Netflix series based on novels by Julia Quinn. The duo, who perform as Barlow & Bear, were awarded the 2022 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album after receiving the green light from Netflix to release the project.
Now, the streaming giant has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit arguing that the creators “have taken valuable intellectual property from the Netflix original series Bridgerton to build an international brand for themselves” after staging “for-profit” performances of the album.
“Bridgerton reflects the creative work and hard-earned success of hundreds of artists and Netflix employees. Netflix owns the exclusive right to create Bridgerton songs, musicals, or any other derivative works based on Bridgerton,” the suit, filed in district court for the District of Columbia, continues, according to docs published by Deadline and reviewed by Rolling Stone. “Barlow & Bear cannot take that right—made valuable by others’ hard work—for themselves, without permission. Yet that is exactly what they have done.”
According to the lawsuit, Netflix had only given Barlow and Bear permission to create the album version of the musical and was to be “consulted before Barlow & Bear took steps beyond streaming their album online in audio-only format.”
But Netflix claims the women violated the agreement by performing the album live — the lawsuit comes just days after Barlow & Bear staged the first-ever Unofficial Bridgerton Musical live concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. on July 26. The promotional advertising for the sold-out show stated that the Bridgerton trademark was used with permission, and the event was not endorsed or sponsored by Netflix.
The complaint states that the live show “featured over a dozen songs that copied “verbatim” dialogue, character traits and expression, and other elements from Bridgerton the series.” The lawsuit adds that the streaming service “vigorously objected” to both the show, the newly-announced performance set for London’s Royal Albert Hall, and the duo’s Bridgerton-themed merchandise.
“Review of the infringing works also demonstrates Barlow & Bear copied liberally and nearly identically from Bridgerton across a number of original elements of expression,” the suit states. “Lyrics are lifted verbatim from dialogue and characters, and plot, pace, sequence of events,
mood, setting, and themes are replicated faithfully.”
In an interview with Variety, which is cited in the lawsuit, Barlow explained that she and Bear often revisited specific moments and scenes in the show while creating the album and musical. “There are just so many pieces of dialogue in this show that write songs themselves,” she said. “I just kept picking all of these little moments that are so iconically written in the show.”
While once supportive, Rhimes and Quinn have both issued statements speaking out against Barlow & Bear.
“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,” Rhimes states. “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.”
Quinn adds: “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. 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.”
Barlow & Bear did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.