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How a performance at The Kennedy Center led these TikTok stars to be sued by Netflix

Abigal Barlow and Emily Bear are behind the Unofficial Bridgerton Musical. Now, Netflix is suing the duo but the streaming service says it could have been avoided.

WASHINGTON — Dear Reader... 

Abigal Barlow and Emily Bear grew a massive TikTok following after releasing original songs inspired by Netflix’s show Bridgerton. The songs led the musical duo to create what they called ‘The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical.” 

The pair even won a Grammy in April for Best Musical Theater Album. 

Everything seemed to be going perfectly for Barlow and Bear with their Bridgerton musical until a performance at The Kennedy Center changed everything for the duo.

The Creation of the Unofficial Bridgerton Musical 

Netflix released its new show Bridgerton, produced by Shonda Rhimes, in December 2020. The show is an adaptation of the historical romance book series of the same name by Julia Quinn. It follows the romantic lives of the eight close-knit siblings of the Bridgerton family, with each season focusing on a different sibling. 

Season one follows Daphne Bridgerton, the eldest daughter of the Bridgerton family, through her debut in the competitive marriage market and her romance with Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings. 

According to Netflix, the series had been streamed by 82 million households worldwide within four weeks. 

On January 10, 2021, Abigal Barlow posted a video to TikTok asking the question that started it all “what if Bridgerton was a musical?” 

@abigailbarlowww

Ignore the terrible ✨queens English✨ #IsThisAvailable #fyp

♬ original sound - Abigail Barlow

The video has amassed 2.4 million views since it was first posted, leading Barlow and her creative partner, Emily Bear, to release more videos inspired by the Netflix series. The videos included music based on characters, scenes, dialogues and plot points from the show. 

In court documents, Netflix points out several instances of the musical duo outright admitting that they intentionally based every single song on the “creative elements” of the series: 

“Barlow has repeatedly said that she based the songs on dialogue from Bridgerton. For instance, Barlow said she wanted to turn Bridgerton into a musical: “The opening scene is so theatrical. I could just see each part of the stage lighting up in my brain. And then I kept writing down lines of dialogue that sounded like song titles.”

Netflix Reaction

When the TikTok videos began growing in popularity, Netflix seemed to support the idea. Even tweeting that they were “absolutely blown away” by how the music was playing out on the platform. 

In court documents, Netflix says at the time the videos first appeared, Barlow and Bear were not the only fans celebrating Bridgerton. 

While some fans were dressing in costumes inspired by the show, others were acting out scenes or performing dances.

“Barlow’s initial TikTok post was no different,” said Netflix in court documents. 

According to Netflix, in March 2021 counsel representing Barlow and Bear asked for the streaming service’s blessing to record an album and to hold a performance featuring West End actors who had been furloughed due to the pandemic. The streaming service claims it did not authorize or approve anything but in the spirit of supporting what the musical duo represented as two Bridgerton fans and their appreciation for the series, the company said it was “not standing in the way.” 

The requested performances did not go forward, the streaming service said in court documents. 

The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Soundtrack on Spotify

Netflix claims representatives learned Barlow and Bear were planning to release an album on Spotify the following month. Netflix says its counsel stressed to the creative duo that the streaming service would not authorize the album and it did not want them to hold any live performances. 

At the time, Netflix said reps for Barlow and Bear claimed no such live events were planned. The representative allegedly told Netflix the women wanted to focus on other work and avoid becoming known as the “Bridgerton Girls.”

A Grammy First

After growing in popularity, the women released the soundtrack to the Unofficial Bridgerton Musical to all streaming platforms on September 10, 2021. 

In April 2022, Barlow and Bear won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. This was a first for the music academy to award a project that began as a TikTok series. The pair beat out Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella and the world premiere recording of Burt Bacharach and Steven Sater’s Some Lovers. 

Following the Grammy nomination, Netflix said representatives reached out to Barlow and Bear to “reiterate the lines.” Netflix claims counsel for the women again claimed they had no further plans regarding the Unofficial Bridgeton Musical and would be focusing on other “activities.” 

The Kennedy Center Performance That Changed Everything

Everything changed after a performance of “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Album Live in Concert” at The Kennedy Center in D.C. on July 26. 

Netflix says Barlow and Bear’s representatives informed the company of the planned Kennedy Center performance on June 7, 2022. When Netflix asked questions regarding the performance, such as how it would be marketed and if it was for charity, the streaming service says the duo’s representation stated that they were not asking for Netflix’s permission and would not be delaying the show, which was allegedly announced days later. 

In court documents, Netflix says representatives attempted multiple times in June and July to inform Barlow and Bear’s counsel that the performance and any live performances were not authorized unless they negotiated a license, which the streaming service claims it was willing to do but says Barlow and Bear weren’t. 

“Netflix offered Barlow & Bear a license that would allow them to proceed with their scheduled live performances at the Kennedy Center and Royal Albert Hall, continue distributing their album, and perform their Bridgerton-inspired songs live as part of larger programs going forward,” the lawsuit reads. “Barlow & Bear refused.”

The show went on to play out to a sold-out audience, with tickets ranging up to $149 each and VIP packages. 

WUSA9 has reached out to The Kennedy Center for comment regarding the performances but has yet to hear back. 

The Lawsuit

On July 29, 2022, three days after The Kennedy Center performance, Netflix filed a lawsuit against Barlow and Bear for taking “valuable intellectual property from the Netflix original series Bridgerton to build an international brand for themselves."

The streaming service says representatives repeatedly objected to the for-profit stage show. The performances were never authorized by the streaming service, production company Shondaland, or Bridgerton Author Julia Quinn. 

“Barlow & Bear lacked any license, approval, or authorization to exploit Bridgerton intellectual property in connection with the Kennedy Center performance. And to the extent Barlow & Bear ever claimed to believe they had such license, approval, or authorization—despite Netflix’s clear statements to the contrary—it has now been unequivocally revoked,” Netflix said in the lawsuit. 

In the lawsuit, filed in D.C. where the Kennedy Center is located, Netflix claims attorneys for Barlow and Bear are attempting to claim the women do not need a license because Netflix did not file the lawsuit sooner.

“That is not how copyright law works,” the lawsuit reads. 

The lawsuit also mentions a second performance announced at the Royal Albert Hall in London. That performance was canceled after the lawsuit was filed. 

The lawsuit called for the following judgment against Barlow and Bear:

  • Declaratory relief establishing Netflix’s rights;
  • Preliminary and permanent injunctive relief;
  • Damages available under 17 U.S.C. § 504 and 15 U.S.C. § 1117;
  • That Netflix be entitled to recover its reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs of suit and interest
  • That Netflix be awarded any and all such other and further relief as this Court shall deem just and proper.

WUSA9 has attempted to reach Barlow and Bear for comment but no legal representation was listed for the pair. 

WATCH NEXT: 'Bridgerton' is coming to DC | It's A DC Thing

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