MANHATTAN (CN) – The “Soft Kitty” lullaby has proved to be a merchandising hit for “The Big Bang Theory,” without any credit to the poem’s author, a family claims in a federal complaint.
Before her death in 2004, New Hampshire nursery school teacher Edith Newlin wrote three children’s books, and her poems have been published in numerous anthologies.
Newlin’s daughters, Ellen Newlin Chase and Margaret Chase Perry, say their mother penned one of those poems, “Warm Kitty,” in 1933.
Kentucky-based Willis Music reproduced in the poem in a collection called “Songs for the Nursery School,” whose registration was last renewed in 1964, according to the lawsuit.
Viewers of CBS’ hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” may recognize the tune as one that is used to soothe the Sheldon Cooper character.
As the complaint describes it, Cooper “is presented as a brilliant scientist with the emotional maturity of a child.”
In addition to using making the song an “emblematic feature” of the long-running program, prominently featuring it in at least eight episodes, show producers Warner Bros. Entertainment and Chuck Lorre Productions are slapping it on everything from T-shirts to air fresheners, according to the complaint.
With nine seasons under its belt, and at least three seasons still to go, “The Big Bang Theory” is among the highest-rated shows on televisions.
It has been in syndication with Turner Broadcasting System’s TBS and with Fox since 2011.
Newlin’s daughters slapped the producers and the networks, plus Willis Music and Ripple Junction Design, with a federal complaint on Monday.
“The Soft Kitty lyrics have been displayed in their entirety on t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, pajamas, mouse pads, mobile phone covers, wallets, air fresheners, refrigerator magnets, singing plush toys, and other products,” the complaint states. “With the exception of the singing plush toys, these merchandise items display the complete and verbatim Soft Kitty lyrics without any musical accompaniment.”
Newlin’s daughters say there is only a “minor change in word order” between the song that airs on the show and the original poem, which goes: “Warm kitty, soft kitty, / Little ball of fur, / Sleepy kitty, happy kitty, / Purr! Purr! Purr!”
In privately working out a deal with Willis Music for the song, the show runners never sought the permission of Newlin’s heirs, according to the lawsuit.
Willis Music’s website boasts about its connection to the popular sitcom without mentioning Newlin.
“Warner Brothers and I worked together to secure the rights for the show and they have been using the song ever since,” an employee wrote in a blog post for the company.
Adding insult to injury, the sitcom credits its co-producer and Chuck Lorre Productions principal Bill Prady as the author of the “Soft Kitty” lyrics, according to the lawsuit.
Ellen Newlin Chase says that she never watched the sitcom – or knew about its use of “Soft Kitty” – until she was researching an article about her mother in August 2014.
The daughters seek damages and an injunction for copyright infringement.
They are represented by Manhattan-based attorney David Wolf.
Willis Music did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Warner Bros. declined to comment.
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