The Soft Kitty song, one of the most emblematic aspects of TV’s The Big Bang Theory is subject to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan Monday.
Ellen Newlin Chase and Margaret Chase Perry, the heirs to Edith Newlin, a New Hampshire teacher who wrote a poem about a “soft kitty” eight decades ago, said CBS “The Big Bang Theory” used lyrics written by their mother in the 1930s without permission.
Their filing claims Newlin wrote her poem around 1933 and later granted one-time permission to Laura Pendleton MacCarteney for use in a 1937 book of nursery school rhymes published by Willis Music.
Warner Bros. Entertainment and the show’s other producers decided in 2007 that they wanted to use the lyrics and sought permission from Kentucky-based company Willis Music Co., that authorized the use of the lyrics without consulting or getting permission from Newlin’s heirs even though the book makes clear on its acknowledgement page (and where the lyrics appear) that Newlin was the author of and owned the copyright to the lyrics.
TMZ posted a picture of the original Newlin lyrics page. In the show, the song’s opening line is, “Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur.” In Newlin’s version, the song is called Warm Kitty and begins, “Warm kitty, soft kitty, little ball of fur.”
Edith Newlin died in 2004. She had worked as a nursery school teacher in Alstead, New Hampshire, for about 35 years.
The daughters’ lawsuit, seeking unspecified damages from the show’s producers and distributors, says the lyrics have been used on at least eight episodes of the show since their first appearance in “The Pancake Batter Anomaly” episode in March 2008 as well as in show merchandise, including on clothing, mouse pads, mobile phone covers, wallets, air fresheners, refrigerator magnets, singing plush toys and other products.
Deadline notes that Newlin’s daughters have no case if Music Publishing, by buying the book, also acquired the rights to all of the songs contained in it, because traditionally, in most publishing agreements, songwriters are required to assign the copyrights of their lyrics to the publisher. In this case, as in all copyright disputes, it will come down to the wording of the contract – or contracts.