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Daughter seeks damages after show uses mom’s lyrics

Last week, we discussed a case that involved the heirs to comedians Abbot and Costello and a lost bid to seek damages from a play allegedly using the duo’s material. This week, another estate case is making headlines with regard to creative material, but the author of the material isn’t a famous comedian.

Instead, heirs are suing the producers of hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” stating in their lawsuit that one of the show’s iconic gimmicks is taken from the body of work of a nursery school teacher. The teacher’s daughter says her mom wrote the lyrics for the song Penny often sings to Sheldon on the show: “Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty.”

According to the lawsuit, the woman’s mother wrote the lyrics decades ago while she was working in a nursery school. The lyrics were later published by Willis Music Co., in a book that collected such songs, and the publishing company allegedly provided CBS with permission to use the song on the show.

The problem with that, alleges the lawsuit, is that the publisher did not retain those rights. The lawsuit states that the book clearly stated that the copyright of the work remained with the woman who wrote it. The daughter reportedly discovered the link between her mother’s song and the television show a few years ago when she was conducting research for something she was writing.

The daughter is asking for an unpublished amount of damages because the television show has used her mother’s lyrics without permission, even profiting from merchandising associated with the song. This case illustrates that legal matters related to an estate can last decades, and it also points out the importance of working with a professional to ensure knowledge and control of all your assets are appropriately passed on to heirs.

Source: US News and World Report, “Late teacher’s heirs sue producers of ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ alleging copyright infringement,” Larry Neumeister, Dec. 28, 2015