Netflix Sues Over TikTok-Originated 'Bridgerton' Musical

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor in Bridgerton.
Courtesy of Liam Daniel/Netflix

Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear won a Grammy for their “Bridgerton” inspired musical. Now, the pair face a lawsuit from Netflix.

The streaming platform is suing the creators of “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” over copyright and trademark infringement. The lawsuit claims the musical uses direct lines of dialogue and character traits from the Netflix show. Netflix also claims it tried to negotiate with Barlow and Bear to let them license the intellectual property and continue with their performances.

The lawsuit follows the musical’s first live performance at the Kennedy Center last week, which charged up to $149 per ticket and included a number of high-profile guest stars, like Kelli O’Hara and Denée Benton. The next performance, which the lawsuit objects to, is set to take place in London this September.

“The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” began with a song exploring one line of dialogue from the show. Since then, Barlow and Bear have crafted 15 show-inspired songs, performed on “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” and won a Grammy.

Based on the series by Julie Quinn, the show has become one of Netflix’s biggest hits. The cast and creators previously supported the musical, and Netflix’s lawyers allowed them to make the album. Now, the author, alongside series creator Shonda Rhimes, released a statement against Barlow and Bear utilizing their intellectual property for financial gain.

TikTok has proven to be a platform for fans to congregate and theorize on topics ranging from Broadway scandals to potential edits in “Stranger Things.” Back in 2020, Disney Pixar’s “Ratatouille” fans collaborated to create songs, choreography, and costumes for a potential production based on the film. The Broadway community came together to put on “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical,” with proceeds going to the Actors Fund. Disney, which is notoriously aggressive in protecting its intellectual property, allowed one virtual performance. Daniel Mertzlufft, the creative leader behind the project, went on to create TikTok’s first official musical.

While “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” is the first of its kind to reach Grammy award-winning heights, fan musicals have a long history. “Star Wars: The Musical” conceptualized “A New Hope” through a series of songs in the late 1990s, while “A Very Potter Musical” and its sequels (starring pre-“Glee” Darren Criss) riffed on the “Harry Potter” series. Neither production was performed for profit, protecting them from lawsuits like the one Barlow and Bear currently face.

Fanmade works have long had to contend with the murky waters of intellectual property. In the early 2000s, author Anne Rice’s legal threats against people writing “Interview with the Vampire” fanfiction led to the practice of writers leaving disclaimers before their works. Fans utilizing the Internet in its early days also dealt with corporations sending cease and desist letters over using various characters in fanart. With the new lawsuit, TikTok is just the latest platform to instigate intellectual property battles.

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David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

What Tesla's Trucking Feat Means for Natural Gas Vehicles in California
Image from Tesla

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Image courtesy of Deron Quon.

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