As if The Big Bang Theory wasn’t sexy enough, things are really amped up over in sitcom land: a new lawsuit accuses the show of stealing the lyrics to the song “Soft Kitty” from a New Hampshire poet.

According to the New York Times, Ellen Newlin Chase and Margaret Chase Perry are suing Warner Brothers, CBS, Chuck Lorre Productions and Willis Music (among others!) for using their mother’s poem as the basis for lyrics for the show’s famous nursery rhyme “Soft Kitty.” In Season 1 of the show (kill me for knowing this), Sheldon asks Penny to sing “Soft Kitty” to him when he’s sick, just like his mother used to. Since then, the song has become (according to CBS) a “fan favorite.”

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But Newlin Chase and Chase Perry claim that the lyrics were taken from their mother Edith Newlin, who wrote them before they were published in a book of collected songs by Laura Pendelton MacCarteney called Songs for the Nursery School in 1937. (Newlin died in 2004.)

The lawsuit alleges that after Newlin wrote the lyrics, she was contacted by Willis Music/Pendelton MacCarteney, who included them in their book and filed a copyright for the song. Fast-forward a few decades:

On information and belief, Defendant Warner Entertainment, knowing that the Soft Kitty lyrics, along with public domain music, were contained in the book Songs for the Nursery School, published by Defendant Willis Music, approached Willis to request permission to use the Soft Kitty Music on The Big Bang Theory.

Subsequently, on information and belief, in about 2007 Defendant Willis Music, without contacting the Plaintiffs and without Plaintiffs’ authorization, entered into or facilitated an agreement purporting to authorize Warner Entertainment to use the Soft Kitty Lyrics on The Big Bang Theory. Willis Music states on its website: “Warner Brothers and I (Kevin Cranley, the President of Willis Music] worked together to secure the rights [to the Soft Kitty Lyrics] for the show and they have been using the song ever since.”

On their website, Willis Music writes that the Songs for the Nursery School “was written by Laura Pendleton MacCarteney,” noting that the show changed the lyrics slightly.

Original:

Warm kitty, soft kitty, little ball of fur, Happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr! purr! purr!

Big Bang:

Soft kitty, Warm kitty, little ball of fur, Sleepy kitty, happy kitty, purr! purr! purr!

Not only has the song been used numerous times in the show, but “Soft Kitty” has played a prominent role in its merchandise, the lawsuit alleges. The issue here really does seem to be with Willis Music more than with CBS or the producers, though. From the lawsuit:

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Songs for the Nursery School makes clear on its Acknowledgement page and on page 27, where the lyrics appear, that Edith Newlin was the author of, and owned the copyright in, the Soft Kitty lyrics. Defendants Warner Entertainment and Willis Music purposefully or recklessly ignored the statements in Songs for the Nursery School that Edith Newlin was the creator and owner of the copyright in the Soft Kitty Lyrics.

According to a CBS press release from 2010, the show’s producers and CBS have not entirely strayed away from crediting the song’s origins (it has its own Wikipedia page), though the lawsuit alleges that they’ve also referred to it as “Written by Bill Prady.”

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Bill Prady, the show’s executive producer, included the song in the episode’s script after he overheard it at his daughter’s preschool, and the tune has been a fan favorite ever since.

As for why the two women have just filed this lawsuit now, when the song has been used since 2008: they didn’t know the show had been using it because they’d never seen it. Newlin chase discovered it “while researching her mother’s history for an article she was writing, came across a blog post discussing the use of the Soft Kitty Lyrics on The Big Bang Theory, a program that the Plaintiffs had never viewed.”

The ultimate burn.


Contact the author at dries@jezebel.com.