Bridgerton the Musical creators Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear

The Scandal of the Season: Netflix Sues ‘Bridgerton the Musical’ Creators

Drama on drama.
August 17, 2022
13 mins read

A new social season is upon us — and, with it, a new scandal. Days after the highly anticipated live performance of “Bridgerton the Musical,” Netflix filed a lawsuit against its creators, Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear. While the songwriters have been publically using the Netflix Original Series “Bridgerton” as inspiration for well over a year, the company now claims Barlow & Bear have gone too far.

Right now, there isn’t much outside of the legal documents: Netflix has made few statements following the lawsuit, and Barlow & Bear have refused to comment. But, though the players of this game may be holding their tongues, “Bridgerton the Musical” fans are certainly not. The tag #bridgertonlawsuit already has over 528,000 views on TikTok, despite the lawsuit being only a few weeks old. Everyone wants to weigh in on the debate, but this early, it can be hard to pick the right side. Are Barlow & Bear falsely accused? Or is Netflix in the right this time? Everyone wants to know the truth behind the biggest scandal of the season.

But “Bridgeton the Musical” wasn’t always a scandal. In fact, when the project first launched on TikTok in 2021, it seemed to have the full support of Netflix behind it. As Barlow & Bear and numerous other creators began contributing to the #BridgertonMusical, Netflix expressed its support on Twitter. The company was “absolutely blown away by the Bridgerton musical playing out on TikTok,” and even gave a standing ovation to Barlow for her work.

So what changed?

Well, like any good “Bridgerton” scandal, it seems there was a ruse at play.

Seeking Permission

When Barlow asked TikTok, “What if Bridgerton was a musical?,” she did not expect anyone to answer. But as the tag grew and Bear joined the project, Barlow quickly realized the need to proceed with caution.

As internet support grew for the #BridgertonMusical, Barlow & Bear reached out to Netflix to seek permission to create a full concept album inspired by the Netflix show. According to the creators, Netflix authorized the project, and “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” album was born. Barlow & Bear confirmed their statement time and time again, telling fans via Instagram and TikTok livestreams that Netflix endorsed the project. But it seems the two have misrepresented Netflix’s position.

According to the lawsuit filed against Barlow & Bear on July 29, Netflix never supported the made-at-home musical. In fact, Netflix firmly opposed it. “When asked directly,” reads the official lawsuit filed by Netflix, “Netflix told Barlow & Bear, time and time again, that such works were not authorized.” Netflix understood the girls’ passion and appreciated their songs as a form of fan fiction, but they did not approve a for-profit production.

Yet, fully aware of Netflix’s disapproval, Barlow & Bear chose to move forward with “Bridgerton the Musical” anyway.

Netflix Warns Barlow & Bear

When news of the lawsuit against Barlow & Bear first leaked, many wondered why Netflix waited until now to sue the creators. The album premiered almost a year ago, and its Grammy nomination and victory were quick to follow. Why not declare infringement then? Well, apparently, Netflix has been warning Barlow & Bear all along.

In the initial conversation between Netflix and Barlow & Bear, the creators’ agent promised the girls’ cooperation. “At each step of the way, Barlow & Bear’s representatives repeatedly assured Netflix that they understood Netflix’s position,” the company writes in its complaint. Barlow & Bear led Netflix to believe they would create an audio-only album, promising to never leave online streaming platforms. So, the company did not protest. Out of respect for “Bridgerton” and “Bridgerton the Musical” fans, Netflix chose not to “stand in the way.” But that doesn’t mean the company was suddenly on board.

As “Bridgerton the Musical” grew and its creators sought more fame, Barlow & Bear began performing their songs at public events. While Netflix gave its blessing for a single, pre-approved charity event in the UK, the company still maintained a firm line: To preserve its intellectual property and prevent Barlow & Bear from being known as the official “Bridgerton girls,” Netflix forbade any for-profit performances of “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical.” So, Barlow & Bear backed down. Even after their Grammy nomination, the team promised no plans for future performances — only a willingness to participate in media coverage directly related to the Grammys. So, Netflix chose to trust Barlow & Bear. And the company continued to trust them as they won the Grammy and spoke of their passion for the “Bridgerton” project. But Netflix soon began to wonder if trusting the self-proclaimed “fans” was a good idea after all.

Barlow & Bear Break Their Deal With Netflix  

Call it confidence or perhaps a bit of cockiness, but less than four months following their victory at the Grammys, Barlow & Bear decided to push their luck with Netflix. Despite the informal agreement made with the company to avoid live performances of their concept album, these brazen young women decided to plan a for-profit concert of “Bridgerton the Musical.”

When the team announced the concert via Instagram last June, Netflix once again reached out denying permission for the live performance. The company informed Barlow & Bear several times throughout June and July that, without the proper license, they risked copyright and trademark infringement with their concert. But the performers were not interested in negotiating with Netflix. On July 26, Barlow & Bear hosted a live performance of “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” album, and three days later, the company took legal action.

Evidence of Infringement

The formal lawsuit filed on July 29 in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. is a complicated document filled with legal jargon and oddly phrased paragraphs that do little to explain the evidence against Barlow & Bear. But, buried deep in its pages, Netflix states its reasons for suing the creators for anyone brave enough to read the report. While some details are impossible to decipher without a law degree, some of the company’s claims are plain enough for “Bridgerton the Musical” fans to see.

Exhibit A: The Kennedy Center Performance

“Bridgerton the Musical” has come a long way from its audio-only concept album, and Barlow & Bear know it. Fresh off their Grammy win, the creators sold out the Kennedy Center, charging upwards of $149 dollars a ticket, not including additional prices for VIP packages and the sale of exclusive (and unauthorized) “Bridgerton” merchandise. The concert was a success, and word on the street is Barlow & Bear plan to do it all again at the Royal Albert Hall in London later this year.

If the UK performance of “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” is anything like its U.S. predecessor, the event will be a true production: With full-length songs, verbatim dialogue from the show, and dramatic portrayals of “Bridgerton” characters by Broadway legends like Kelli O’Hara and Denée Benton, little about this musical appears unofficial. Thanks in part to Barlow & Bear’s illegal use of the official “Bridgerton” trademark, Netflix maintains its vigorous opposition to the production. In the company’s own words, Barlow & Bear’s concert is a “blatant infringement of intellectual property rights.” The girls knew that when they scheduled the performance, but now the rest of the world knows it too.

Exhibit B: Infereference With Netflix’s Bridgerton Experience

The for-profit performance of “Bridgerton the Musical” alone is enough to warrant legal action, but the timing of the live concert only compounds its transgression against Netflix.

Earlier this year, Netflix launched “The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience,” an immersive event inspired by the fictional balls of “Bridgerton.” With elaborate costumes from the 1800s and live music inspired by the show, the “Bridgerton Experience” uses the same branding as the Netflix show, as is well within its rights as an official Netflix event. For only $45 for general admission or $85 for a VIP package, “Bridgerton” fans can experience a true Regency ball alongside the Queen herself with Netflix as their host.

But Barlow & Bear had plans to host a ball of their own. On the same day as the “Bridgerton Experience” in Washington D.C., the “Bridgerton the Musical” creators planned their unauthorized concert at the Kennedy Center, just a few miles away from the Netflix-sponsored event. The “Bridgerton Experience” was scheduled to close in the capital city at the end of the month, making its event on July 26 one of the final chances for the company to sell tickets for the experience. But, with the addition of “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” concert, Netflix lost that chance.

Not only did Barlow & Bear capitalize off of stolen “Bridgerton” branding, but they did so while interfering with an authorized Netflix event. The purposeful timing of the Kennedy Center performance robbed Netflix of the potential profits it otherwise would have received if not for “Bridgerton the Musical.” In hosting their unauthorized performance on July 26 specifically, Barlow & Bear added theft of ticket sales to their list of crimes.

The Truth Comes Out

Fans have been hesitant to support Netflix in the copyright case, but the company is right: Barlow & Bear have “taken valuable intellectual property from the Netflix Original Series ‘Bridgerton’ to build an intentional brand for themselves,” and must face the consequences. As more information comes out regarding the reasons behind the lawsuit and the wrongdoings by the creators, more “Bridgerton the Musical” fans are swayed in Netflix’s favor. Barlow & Bear were once the diamonds of the season, but, after their scandal with Netflix, the “Bridgerton girls” are now little more than costume jewelry.

Aunna Beranek, Columbia College Chicago

Writer Profile

Aunna Beranek

Columbia College Chicago
English, Minor in Creative Writing (Fiction Concentration)

An aspiring writer and editor trying to figure out how to build a career out of crying in the dark over fictional characters.

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