Big Bang Theory Producers Sued for Copyright Infringement of Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty Song
Posted on January 5, 2016
CBS is being sued for copyright infringement over the use of a poem written 80 years ago by Edith Newlin which begins "Soft kitty, warm kitty." If you are a Big Bang Theory fan you immediately recognize the lyrics to Dr. Sheldon Cooper's (Jim Parsons) favorite song that his mother would sing to him whenever he got sick.The show has been using the song since March, 2008, but according to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Newlin's daughters, Ellen Newlin Chase and Margaret Chase Perry, neither CBS or the various production companies ever received permission to use them.
Apparently the show's attorneys did get permission to use the lyrics from Willis Music Co., a Kentucky publisher that released the lyrics in the book "Songs for the Nursery School." But it turns out that Willis Music Co. is not the copyright owner of the poem, Ms. Newlin's heirs are.
The Big Bang Theory is one of the highest rated shows on television and is immensely profitable. There are some very deep pockets here. The song has aired in at least eight episodes since 2008, according to the lawsuit. It's so popular with fans that the song is sung at tapings and at conventions. There are even t-shirts and other memorabilia referencing "Soft Kitty." No really, there are Soft Kitty mousepads, wallets, air fresheners, plush toys that sing , refrigerator magnets and pajamas, just to name a few items.
It seems highly unlikely that there was any intent to violate copyright laws, due to the fact that the production company licensed the lyrics from Willis. What is more likely is that the attorney whose job it was to secure copyright licenses for the show really blew it. It is incumbent on the licensee to make sure that the person or entity giving the permission to license actually owns the copyright in question. This mistake is going to cost someone -- Warner Bros, Chuck Lorre Productions, CBS, Turner Broadcasting and/or Fox -- a lot of money to settle this suit, especially if the Soft Kitty merchandise has sold well. Another fact that will be difficult for the producers to explain: the song has been wrongly credited at various times to Bill Prady of Chuck Lorre Productions.
The moral of this story is clear: do your due diligence when licensing poetry or song lyrics for a tv show or movie, even if the piece involved is somewhat obscure. Otherwise, it could really come back to haunt you. At CBS Store the Soft Kitty merchandise is still available, including this hot pink T-shirt that features the lyrics, "Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur, happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr." You can see the lawsuit here (.pdf file).
Here is clip of the first time Sheldon convinces his neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco) to sing him the song while rubbing Vapo-Rub on his chest: