Netflix sues Unofficial Bridgerton Musical creators for 'blatant infringement'
The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical has gone a bridge(-rton) too far for Netflix. The streamer is now suing its creators for "blatant infringement."
Songwriters Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, who won the 2022 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album for their musical interpretation of the steamy Netflix hit, are named in the suit filed Friday in Washington, D.C. federal court.
"Netflix supports fan-generated content, but 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 streamer said in a statement to EW. "We've tried hard to work with Barlow & Bear, and they have 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."
On Tuesday, Barlow and Bear sold out D.C.'s Kennedy Center for a one-night performance of the musical that started as a viral TikTok hit, with accompaniment from Broadway stars Kelli O'Hara, Ephraim Sykes, Denée Benton, and Solea Pfeiffer. Tickets sold for up to $149.
Documents for the lawsuit obtained by EW point to the Kennedy Center performance in particular, stating that "over Netflix's repeated objections, Barlow & Bear staged a massive, for-profit stage show" featuring "over a dozen songs that copied verbatim dialogue, character traits and expression, and other elements from Bridgerton the series."
The suit further claims that Barlow and Bear misrepresented to the audience that they had permission to use Netflix's Bridgerton trademark, despite the streamer's objections.
In addition, the lawsuit mentions Barlow and Bear's sales of Bridgerton-branded merchandise at the Kennedy Center and online. As of Saturday morning, the merchandise page at BarlowandBear.com featured only items bearing the creators' names.
Netflix has also capitalized on the fame of the show, which premiered in 2020 and became the streamer's most-watched show at the time. "The Queen's Ball: A Bridgerton Experience" brings an immersive Regency party to fans around the country, and Netflix's online and brick-and-mortar stores sell Bridgerton merch.
"There is so much joy in seeing audiences fall in love with Bridgerton and watching the creative ways they express their fandom," the show's executive producer, Shonda Rhimes, told EW in a statement. "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. 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."
EW spoke with Barlow and Bear in February 2021 about the unofficial musical's runaway success.
"It truly has every element you'd want for a Broadway show," Bear said at the time. "Abigail texted me the night she started 'Ocean Away,' and was like, 'Oh, my God, Emily, what if Bridgerton was a musical?' and I had the same exact reaction as the rest of the world, which was, 'Oh, my God, yes.'"
In her conversation with EW, Barlow credited the pandemic for giving them the room to build their following online. "I feel like a few years ago, Netflix probably would've sent us a cease-and-desist for what we're doing, but I think in a time like this, it is so important to have a creative outlet," she said.
In January 2021, Julia Quinn, the author of the books on which the series is based, told E! News that she knew all about the musical. "I can't believe that's actually happening. I'll be sort of humming in the shower and realize I've been humming one of the Bridgerton the Musical songs," she said.
Quinn's statement to EW today mirrors Netflix and Rhimes' sentiments.
"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 in her statement. "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 20 years ago."
This April, The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical beat out Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cinderella, Les Misérables: The Staged Concert, the cast recording of Girl From the North Country, and Stephen Schwartz's Snapshots to win a Grammy.
"A year ago when I asked the internet, 'What if Bridgerton was a musical?' I could not have imagined we would be holding a Grammy in our hands," Barlow said in her acceptance speech. "We want to thank everyone on the internet who has watched us create this album from the ground up. We share this with you."
Barlow & Bear LLC and Pink & Purple Lady Inc. are also named in the suit.
Representatives for Barlow and Bear did not immediately respond to EW's requests for comment.
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