Days after musicians Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear performed their Grammy-winning Unofficial Bridgerton Musical to a sold-out audience at the Kennedy Center, Netflix is suing them for “blatant infringement” of the company’s rights to the popular period drama.
In a complaint filed Friday (July 29) in D.C. federal court, Netflix accused the duo of piggybacking on “the creative work and hard-earned success” of hundreds of artists and staffers behind Bridgerton – using the company’s copyrights and trademarks without permission to build a “brand for themselves.”
“Netflix owns the exclusive right to create Bridgerton songs, musicals, or any other derivative works based on Bridgerton,” the company wrote. “Barlow & Bear cannot take that right—made valuable by others’ hard work—for themselves, without permission. Yet that is exactly what they have done.”
Barlow & Bear launched the Unofficial Bridgerton Musical on TikTok in 2020, garnering millions of likes. The viral songs were eventually released as an album, which won best musical theater album at the 2022 Grammy Awards in April.
But according to Netflix’s lawsuit, none of that was sanctioned by the studio that actually created the soapy historical romance series, which debuted in 2020 and has become one of the streamer’s biggest successes of the last few years.
“When asked directly, Netflix told Barlow & Bear, time and time again, that such works were not authorized,” the company wrote. “Despite their assurances to the contrary, Barlow & Bear are now claiming carte blanche authorization to profit from Netflix’s protected intellectual property in whatever way they see fit.”
The breaking point appears to have been this week’s sold-out performance at the Kennedy Center, which took place despite “Netflix’s repeated objections” and featured tickets ranging up to $149. Netflix says the two are also planning a show at Royal Albert Hall in London and other performances around the world.
“The live show featured over a dozen songs that copied verbatim dialogue, character traits and expression, and other elements from Bridgerton,” Netflix wrote. “Throughout the performance, Barlow & Bear misrepresented to the audience that they were using Netflix’s Bridgerton trademark ‘with permission,’ while Netflix vigorously objected.”
Fan fiction is a legal gray area, and courts have split on whether such projects are kosher under intellectual property laws. Non-commercial projects and parodies are often ruled a legal “fair use” of the underlying material, but lucrative adaptations can be ruled a “derivative work” that needed a license.
In this week’s lawsuit, Netflix says the Unofficial Bridgerton Musical was clearly the latter: “Barlow & Bear’s conduct began on social media, but stretches ‘fan fiction’ well past its breaking point. It is blatant infringement of intellectual property rights. The copyright and trademark laws do not allow Barlow & Bear to appropriate others’ creative work and goodwill to benefit themselves.”
Barlow & Bear did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read the entire lawsuit here: