Raenelle Manning is an IPilogue Writer and 2L J.D. Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Wait until Lady Whistledown gets her hands on this juicy gossip! The Netflix Original series, “Bridgerton” attained notable popularity after its release last year. Based on the romance novel series by Julia Quinn, the show centers around the Bridgerton family members’ search for true love. Fans expressed their love for the show various ways on social media. However, one musical duo exceeded the fan-generated content standards. In September 2021, songwriters Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear (or “Bear and Barlow”) went viral on TikTok for their self-composed Bridgerton songs. They later released a 15-song album based on the show’s characters and storylines, entitled “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical.” This year, their album won a Grammy for “Best Musical Theatre Album，” making it the first album to win the award for music created on TikTok. Netflix’s official TikTok account even praised the album stating, “Absolutely blown away by the Bridgerton musical playing out on TikTok [.] Standing ovation for @abigailbarlow…”.
Unfortunately, Netflix’s applause ended after the Grammy-award winners premiered the live performance of the Unofficial Bridgerton Musical at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C. Netflix is now suing Bear and Barlow for stealing “valuable intellectual property” to build their global brand. The song writing duo seemed to have crossed the line when they began profiting off the Bridgerton brand. Netflix argued that this is a direct violation of US copyright law, which provides that only copyright holders have the exclusive right to monetize and create derivative works of their IP. Netflix claimed that the defendants declined their licensing offer before the live performance and proceeded without authorization.
Netflix also took issue with the use of the “Bridgerton” name, as it risks consumers believing that the live performance is associated with the official brand. The concert particularly threatened the success of Netflix’s own live event “The Queen’s Ball: Bridgerton Experience,” a multi-city event that transports fans into a regency-era ball, as depicted in the show. Since one of the event locations is in Washington D.C (where the defendants’ concert occurred), Netflix believes fans may choose one over the other.
It was obvious that Bear and Barlow invested time and resources into perfecting their work. Of course, it is disheartening to see a small business be victim to a legal action by a global company like Netflix. However, the defendants acted without considering Netflix’s intellectual property rights. The show’s executive producer, Shonda Rhimes denounced Bear and Barlow’s financial exploitation of the brand in a recent public statement. Rhimes acknowledged the efforts of the countless individuals who contributed to Bridgeton’s production, including author Julia Quinn. While this case may seem like a “David vs Goliath” situation, intellectual property rights function to protect original creators. With the increased prevalence of content creation on social media , it is important for creators to be aware of these IP laws. As catchy and creative as Bear and Barlow’s album is， they will likely not be able to continue to benefit from Netflix’s creative work.