‘The Big Bang Theory’ Lawsuit Surfaces Over ‘Soft Kitty’ Lyrics

Soft Kitty Lawsuit Big Bang Theory
Courtesy of CBS

“Soft Kitty” has been a longtime source comfort for Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory,” but now the song is at the center of a legal headache for CBS and “Big Bang” producer Warner Bros.

On Monday, a lawsuit was filed by the daughters of Edith Newlin, a New Hampshire teacher who originally wrote a poem about a “soft kitty” in the 1930s. The heirs of Newlin, who died in 2004, claim in the copyright infringement suit that “Big Bang” has used the lyrics to the song without permission, according to the Associated Press.

According to the complaint, the hit comedy has used Newlin’s lyrics — which begin “soft kitty, warm kitty” — on at least eight episodes of the series without permission. The lawsuit, seeking unspecified damages from the sitcom’s producers and distributors, also says the lyrics have been used in the series’  merchandising with shirts, sweatshirts, pajamas and more products featuring the lyrics.

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

Additionally, the suit states that besides failing to credit Newlin, the defendants have sometimes made it appear as if the lyrics were written by the show’s producers. The suit maintains that Warner Bros. sought permission in 2007 from Willis Music Co., a company that previously published the lyrics in a book titled “Songs for the Nursery School.” According to Newlin’s daughters, Willis Music Co. authorized the use of lyrics without consultation or permission.

The lawsuit goes into great detail on the show’s use of the tune, even mentioning that the “Soft Kitty” lyrics have been sung by large audiences, led by “Big Bang” producers and actors, at at least three Comic-Con conventions.

One of Newlin’s daughters, Ellen Newlin Chase, first learned of “Big Bang’s” use of “Soft Kitty” in August 2014 when she was researching her mother’s history and came across a blog post regarding the show.

CBS did not immediately reply to Variety‘s request for comment. Warner Bros. declined to comment.

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  1. Jane Devin says:

    Willis Music owned the rights and they gave permission to use. If Newlin’s offspring has a problem, it’s with Willis, not the show.

  2. LIsa says:

    wtf? and they waited 9 years to say something?

  3. BBT Fan Since 2007 says:

    I’m concerned…how will Dr. Copper get better when he’s sick in bed now that “Soft Kitty” is being litigated? This lawsuit is the dumbest thing I ever read.

  4. Beth says:

    Sorry ladies! The show did this with in the means of the law. There is no permission needed because the words were changed around and it was put to a melody. There is no copywrite law against using someone’s idea. There also is no law that says that someone can’t use your copywrite material once you have passed away. There was no need for permission from anyone and the show is well with in its rights legally.

    • Rich Clark says:

      @Beth:

      Sorry, but everything you said is wrong. It’s a copyrighted work that was used substantially without change (every single word of the original was used in the show’s version, and the meaning is identical). It’s not an “idea,” it’s the actual lyrics. Copyrights extend for 95 years after publication if they are renewed, which this one was.

      The producers were well aware of this, which is why they cleared the use of the song with its publisher. It seems to me therefore that it’s the publisher with whom the heirs have a conflict. It’s legitimacy probably depends on the terms of the original lyricist’s contract with them. But there’s a ton of money at stake; the matter does need to be adjudicated.

  5. Sean S. says:

    Have been ~sung!

  6. j1316259 says:

    interesting…. to bad they don’t have a case that poem/song is in the public domain.

  7. Don says:

    this is insane. It was never intended that creative property rights extend to the degree that is being allowed. Edith Newlin deserved to profit from her creative efforts. Her estate should not in perpetuity. It’s time to return to a policy of releasing creative efforts to the public domain after the original creator(s) can no longer appreciate the fruits of their efforts.

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