Ellen Newlin Chase and Margaret Chase Perry are suing essentially everyone involved with “The Big Bang Theory” over the hit sitcom’s repeated use of their mother’s nursery rhyme poem, “Soft Kitty.”
The plaintiffs want damages and profits, costs and attorneys fees, prejudgment interest, other relief, and an immediate injunction from a laundry list of companies: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Consumer Products, Home Entertainment and Warner-Olive Music LLC; Chuck Lorre Productions; CBS Corp. and Consumer Products; Turner Broadcasting; Fox Broadcasting and Television Stations; Ripple Junction Design Co.; and Willis Music Company.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in the Southern District of New York, claims that the lyrical rights clearly belonged to author and copyright owner Edith Newlin, and the listed defendants “never contacted or made any attempt to contact Edith Newlin or her successors to seek permission to use the Soft Kitty Lyrics, and Plaintiffs never granted any permission … to do so.”
However, in 2007, Warner Bros. Entertainment apparently struck a deal with Willis Music to use the song on the show, which seems to explain away the above claim from the defendant’s point-of-view. The only problem is, as the plaintiffs state in the filing, Willis Music allegedly did not have the right to grant that permission.
The lyrics originally ran in Willis compilation “Songs for the Nursery School” in 1937, but were essentially loaned for a single use by Edith Newlin, who was credited in the publication, the plaintiffs argue. Their mother, who passed in 2004, taught nursery school for 35 years.
Newlin Chase and Chase Perry argue that when their mother died, her copyrights were passed down to the daughters in Edith Newlin’s will.
In or around 1933, Edith Newlin created the following lyrics: “Warm kitty, soft kitty/Little ball of fur/Sleepy kitty, happy kitty/Purr! Purr! Purr!”
The song has been used in at least eight episodes of the show, with only slight tweaks, the lawsuit states, often in scenes where Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) is feeling unwell and needs to be sung to sleep.
The suit states the so-called “Soft Kitty Lyrics” have also been exploited in promotion and advertising. Additionally, the plaintiffs claim that the show actually credited the lyrics on some merchandise to Bill Prady, a principal at Chuck Lorre Productions, adding insult to alleged financial injury.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.