Big Bang Theory Lawsuit

Big Bang Theory Lawsuit

Heirs Scratch and Claw Over Soft Kitty

I just got done with a post about a stupid lawsuit and I immediately happened on another. The heirs of the author of Soft Kitty, often uses in the TV show Big Bang Theory, are trying to get their paws on some of the show’s cash. (Yes, Sheldon that is sarcasm) Just in case, you don’t know about the song or the show.

Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty

Personally, I love The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon Cooper is an iconic character, the show is well written and I watch it regularly. I don’t like seeing Big Bang Theory lawsuit when I search Google. I for hope they don’t get scratched too badly on this one.  (Yes Sheldon that was satire.)

The cast of The Big Bang Theory on a panel at ...
The cast of The Big Bang Theory on a panel at Comic Con 2008. From left to right: Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco and Simon Helberg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The heirs of Edith Newlin have filed a suit claiming that the work has been used without permission. More specifically, they are claiming that The Willis Music Company gave permission without the permission of the heirs. The song was originally published in a book titled Songs for the Nursery School. I did a little web digging and it appears that this is the case. I checked a PDF of the book and there is, in the section containing animal songs, on page 21, a song titled Warm Kitty. The music is credited to an adapted English Folk-Tune.

(Wikipedia states the tune is identical to Hasnchen klien, a German song. Another wiki claims it is a Polish song about a cat.  Could this be a case of “Who stole it first?” regarding the musical aspect of it.)

According to the ABC News:

“The Soft Kitty Lyrics are among the best-known and most popular aspects of ‘The Big Bang Theory,'” the lawsuit says. “They have become a signature and emblematic feature of the show and a central part of the show’s promotion.”

I would have to agree with that. They even have Soft Kitty merchandise and a commercial themed around it. The suit complainants further state:

The lawsuit says Willis Music authorized 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.

The Big Bang Theory lawsuit is over just that.  Certainly if they own the rights and The Big Bang Theory profited without permission, they are entitled to compensation.  The heirs claim they are entitled to some of that cash.

My First Hmmm… Is the Work Copyrighted by Edith Newlin?

Scales of justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next the question becomes whether the heirs actually have the rights to the 1937 poem. Due to the date of the original copyright, it is possible the copyright may have lapsed. Even if it has not, do the Newlin heirs actually hold the rights to the song? In order for that to be possible, Newlin would have, at one time, had to have held the rights. Otherwise, there is nothing to inherit.

As I mentioned, I did some digging. The PDF at the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) does credit Edith Newlin as the author but does not mention any copyright by Edith Newlin. The only mention of any copyright that I saw was on page 2 and it was The Willis Music Company.

While the PDF document is not searchable, I scrolled through entire work. I could not find any “acknowledgment page”. The Worldcat catalog lists Laura Pendleton MacCarteney and Peter Perrine as the authors and contributors. The Willis Music Co. is listed as the copyright holder. Pendleton MacCarteney is the editor. Perrine is the illustrator. The copyright date is 1937.

Fortunately, thanks to Google Books, The Catalog of Copyright Entries is searchable.

The Catalog of Copyright Entries states the same, this is true for all three of the entries (contributors, authors and rights holders) regarding Songs for the Nursery School. The searches agree with the OCLC entry mentioned above.

Searching the same document catalog for “Edith Newlin” results in one hit for Pike Newlin. Searching the document for “Warm Kitty”, “Warm Kittie”, “Soft Kitty”, and “Soft Kittie” result in zero hits.

I am not an expert at digging through copyright records and I am not an attorney. I don’t know what to think, but I would be far less sarcastic and doubtful if I could find that acknowledgment page. I am just sharing what I know from a few hours of searching and writing. These matters are often difficult to search and sift through.  It is likely that those more proficient at search and the legal system shall weigh in on this on soon. I will have to keep checking on this as we roll into the new year.

Looks like the 2015 litigation year is ending with a big bang, moe specifically, a Big Bang Theory Lawsuit.  And, no that is not sarcasm… it is more like the type of joke Sheldon Cooper would make. For now, I must part it smells like the litter box may need a changing.  (There’s your sarcasm Sheldon.)