Netflix is suing Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, the creators of the unofficial Bridgerton musical that got its start on TikTok, accusing them of "blatant infringement" of the streaming giant's intellectual property rights.
In a lawsuit filed Friday, Netflix alleged that the duo and their company, Barlow & Bear, "appropriate others’ creative work and goodwill to benefit themselves" by planning live shows around their Grammy-winning album The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical, as well as selling merchandise with Bridgerton branding without Netflix's permission. Executive produced by Shonda Rhimes, the streaming series is based on books by Julia Quinn, and Netflix owns the adaptation rights.
When Barlow and Bear first released their album, Netflix said it did not authorize or approve of it, but the company did not stand in the way "in the spirit of supporting" their appreciation for the show. But Netflix is now saying that the duo have gone too far, appropriating the creative work of those behind the streaming show and refusing to negotiate a license to market and expand on their Bridgerton-related work.
"Bridgerton reflects the creative work and hard-earned success of hundreds of artists and Netflix employees. Netflix owns the exclusive right to create Bridgerton songs, musicals, or any other derivative works based on Bridgerton," the lawsuit said. "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 and Bear did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
The duo released their first Bridgerton collaboration on TikTok shortly after the hit show debuted in December 2020. "What if Bridgerton was a musical?" Barlow says before breaking out in song.
The TikTok went viral, and the two women quickly began writing and sharing more songs with lyrics that used lines from the show. Their efforts won praise from Bridgerton fans, as well as from Netflix and Quinn.
The duo then released an album on Spotify called The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Album, which they won a Best Musical Theater Album Grammy for this year.
Netflix claimed in its suit that it repeatedly told the duo their Bridgerton-related works were not authorized. Barlow and Bear's representatives assured Netflix that they would not go beyond releasing their album online without the company's permission, the lawsuit claimed, and that they did not want to interfere with Netflix's rights or be known only as the "Bridgerton girls."
But since then, the pair have planned a live performance with Broadway stars and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. "BRIDGERTON is a Trademark of Netflix; used with Permission," a promotional image for the concert says. "This event is not endorsed or sponsored by Netflix or its partners."
After being informed of the Kennedy Center show in early June, Netflix said it told the duo multiple times that their live performances were not authorized and would be considered copyright and trademark infringement, the lawsuit said. Netflix said it was willing to negotiate a license to allow them to keep distributing the album, continue with some live performances, and perform their Bridgerton songs as part of larger programs, but the duo declined, it said.
Netflix also accused Barlow and Bear of using the Bridgerton mark on their promotional materials and backdrop and incorrectly claimed that they were being "used with permission."
Both Rhimes and Quinn issued statements supporting the lawsuit.
"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," Rhimes said.
Quinn called Barlow and Bear "wildly talented," but said there was a difference between creating TikTok content and making it 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 twenty years ago," she said.