Big Bang Producers can sleep soundly to Soft Kitty

Big Bang Producers can sleep soundly to Soft Kitty (from David Liao)

Fans of the hit show “The Big Bang Theory” will be familiar with the catchy song “Soft Kitty”

What may be less well-known is that in December 2015 a lawsuit was filed in relation to this song by Ellen Newlin Chase and Margaret Chase Perry, the daughters of Edith Newlin who wrote the original lyrics to the song in the 1930s as a poem.

As background, this poem had been published in the Songs for the Nursery School book by one of the defendants The Willis Music Group (“Willis Music”) in 1937 with Newlin’s permission, and also registered then as a musical composition with the US Copyright Office. Willis Music subsequently renewed this copyright registration in 1964 and the plaintiffs alleged this would have renewed Newlin’s rights to the lyrics.

If so, the licence provided by Willis Music to the other defendant’s (including Warner Bros. Entertainment) would have required Newlin’s permission and therefore use of this song in the show infringed her copyright.

Despite noting that section 24 of the 1909 Copyright Act is “hardly a model of clarity”, the Southern District Court of New York recently dismissed the claim, holding that Newlin and assigned the copyright to Willis Music (meaning the licence was valid) and that the distinction made by the plaintiff’s between common law copyright and other copyrights was a distinction without a difference.

For more details, see here for the memorandum and order.

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