Netflix has sued the team behind “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical,” claiming that the Grammy-winning lyricist-composer duo infringed on the hit show’s intellectual property, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear staged a “for-profit,” sold-out show Friday at the Kennedy Center, with ticket prices ranging up to $149, without Netflix’s permission, the lawsuit filed Friday asserts. Barlow and Bear have also promoted branded merchandise, and have plans for a future performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London, according to the suit.
Barlow and Bear, who first gained popularity filming “Bridgerton”-themed TikToks, won this year’s Grammy Award for best musical theater album, beating Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella” and Conor McPherson’s “Girl From the North Country.” The 15-song “Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” album included songs written from the perspectives of the Netflix show’s central couple, Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, and was shaped by feedback from the composers’ social media audience.
“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’ I.P.,” Netflix said in a statement via email. “We’ve tried hard to work with Barlow & Bear, and they have refused to cooperate.”
Barlow and Bear did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. In an interview with The Times after winning the Grammy, they said that Netflix had given their lawyers the green light for them to turn their songs into an album. But when asked at the time if the musical was likely to be staged in the future, Bear said, “It’s a bit out of our court because we don’t own the I.P.”
Among the specific objections in the lawsuit, it claims that the musical’s opening track, “Tis the Season,” uses dialogue similar to that spoken by Lady Whistledown, the town’s gossip writer, in the TV series, and says that the track “If I Were a Man” mirrors the character Eloise Bridgerton’s desire to escape the cage of marriage.
Netflix has sued Barlow and Bear on four counts including copyright infringement and infringement of registered trademarks. The lawsuit stated that Netflix had been willing to negotiate a license which would permit live performances and album distribution, but the pair refused.
The “Bridgerton” series, produced by Shonda Rhimes and based on romance novels by Julia Quinn, details 19th-century England’s marriage market with modern-day twists, reflecting a diverse cast and classical takes on pop music hits.
“There is so much joy in seeing audiences fall in love with Bridgerton and watching the creative ways they express their fandom,” Rhimes wrote 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.”
Following Barlow and Bear’s album release, according to the suit, Netflix informed the two that it would not authorize live performances that might conflict with events like “The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience,” which Netflix has staged in several cities. Guests can interact with “Bridgerton”-themed characters within a Regency-era setting at the events, complete with ball gowns and live music from the show’s soundtrack.
Quinn, who described Barlow and Bear as wildly talented, wrote in a statement that she was delighted when they began performing on TikTok and composing songs dedicated to “Bridgerton.” On the other hand, there is a difference between posting on TikTok and seeking commercial gain, she wrote.
“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,” Quinn wrote.