What you need to know about Netflix’s Bridgerton Lawsuit

netflix bridgerton lawsuit for writers

At what point does fan fiction cross the line into copyright infringement?

netflix bridgerton lawsuit for writers

You might’ve seen in the news that Netflix is suing “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” creators Barlow & Bear for copyright infringement.


Short summary:
Two women (Barlow & Bear) went viral on TikTok for their musical adaptation of Bridgerton, and they went on to win a Grammy for their work.

Apparently, they had been in contact with Netflix and established as long as their work was for non-profit, they could continue with their musical adaptation.

However, a few weeks ago, B&B staffed a musical production and sold out an international tour of their “Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” (definitely for a profit) after turning down Netflix’s offer for a non-profit licensing deal.

B&B did exactly what Netflix said they could NOT do, and Netflix replied with a big, “Oh, no, you don’t…” and has issued a copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit on the indie musical composers.

The outcome of the Bridgerton lawsuit can determine how fan fiction, fan art, and derivative works are published.

This entire situation raises an interesting thought experiment for what constitutes fair use derivative work and what crosses the line into copyright infringement.

But first, let’s get into some details about copyright, derivative work, and fair use

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer; this is not legal advice, just my opinion.

So, copyright laws protect the creator of the work as soon as anything is publicly available. That means that Julia Quinn’s copyright is protected and the main reason why Netflix purchased the rights to adapt her books into a Netflix series. 

Netflix owns the copyright to the original work and all derivatives of said work.

However, some derivative work falls under Fair Use, which means that it is unique enough to become a stand-alone work separate from the original and, therefore, falls under the creator’s copyright.

It is said that B&B are confident that their musical falls under fair use and, therefore, does not need to be licensed.

What are the four factors of Fair Use claimed under the Bridgerton Lawsuit? 

1. The purpose of the use and if it is transformative from the original – is it commercial or for nonprofit educational purpose? 

2. The nature of the copyrighted work

If you’re using factual work in the public domain, it’s more likely to be considered fair use than fictional works. 

3. The amount of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

4. Does your version harm the value or potential market of the copyrighted work

You can see how these four factors of fair use are completely subject to interpretation and could be argued either way.

This will be an interesting intellectual property/copyright infringement case that will affect fan fiction and writers, so I’ll be following it closely and will report on the outcome when it’s all over.


How does this affect you as a writer? 

The outcome of this lawsuit WILL affect everyone in this space — creators of original works, whether they be derivative and fair use or original original.

It will be interesting to see how a huge content producer like Netflix defends their copyright, and I’m interested to hear B&B’s justification for why they feel the musical falls under fair use.

Also, as writers, we want to ensure we don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright and that nobody else infringes on OUR copyright.

If someone wants to take your story and turn it into something else, you deserve to be paid for others adapting your work.

If someone wants to read your book aloud on YouTube, they need your permission (or your publisher’s permission) before doing so.

Be sure to defend your copyright if you feel people are infringing upon your hard work.

Alternatively, if you want to retell an existing story, you can skip the fair use debacle and adapt works already in the public domain (see Project Gutenberg linked below).

What are your thoughts?

Do you think B&B are infringing on Netflix’s copyright and trademark with their musical? 

What would you do if you found your book turned into a musical adaptation? 

What crosses the line for you between free promotion by a fan and exploitation of your work?

Reply to this email and let me know your thoughts.

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What is Copyright? How do I register?

One of the most frequently asked questions in beginner’s writing groups is always about copyright—

What is it?

How do I protect my work?

Do I need a lawyer to file my copyright?

So, let’s start with the basics.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of intellectual property of creative works. It grants rights to use or license the work exclusively to the author who created the work.

Basically, it prevents anyone from copying your work and saying it is theirs.

Copyright can be confusing because although it is set by country most countries recognize other countries’ copyright limitations.

Copyright matters are almost always handled in civil court cases, which means that it can be a real pain in the rear if you find someone infringing on your copyright.

Copyright in the US is generated as soon as something is created. That means that you do not need to formally register your work with the US Copyright Office.

It is possible for someone to copy your work wholesale, slap on a new cover, and say the content is theirs and it would be incumbent on you to fight them in court.

While you don’t need a copyright registration with the US Copyright Office to prove your work is yours, it is helpful to have in your back pocket should the need ever arise.

Filing a Copyright

If you live in the US:

  • Visit copyright.gov
  • Register with a profile
  • Complete your information (register a literary work)
  • Follow the directions
  • Pay the $55 fee per registration

Adding a Copyright page to your book

Copyright pages appear after the title page and before the table of contents.

Feel free to repurpose or edit this text for your book:

Copyright © (YEAR) by (YOUR NAME)

All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

For permission, contact the author.

If you are self-publishing an anthology or collection of stories

If you are working collaboratively with other writers, as I did, you need to collect their permission for you to publish their words.

I recommend doing this in a very formal way so there is no confusion about the exchange and so that they understand they cannot republish the same work they submitted to you for publication. (It happens, trust me.)

Many anthologies return all copyright back to the contributors 12 months post-publication but this is not mandatory. It’s a nice thing to do, though, and it’s good marketing for the anthology.

If you want to download my template contract I created for my contributors in the Knocked Up Abroad series, then fill out the form below and I’ll send it over to you.

 

Okay, here’s where things are less straightforward.

You can work with an illustrator in multiple ways. It totally depends on what the illustrator wants and what you can comfortably agree to.

Illustrator-for-hire method

In this scenario, you pay the illustrator a set fee for their work ($XX/image), and they sign over the copyright to you so you can use their work in your book. 

You should still credit your illustrator on the front cover of your book. Some authors don’t think they need to do this since they hired someone for the illustrations, but come on, wouldn’t you want credit for the work you’ve written? Yeah…credit your illustrator. Don’t be a jerk.

In this scenario, the illustrator grants you their copyright so you can publish it. Depending on the illustrator, they may turn over all copyright exclusively to you as the author, or they may retain partial copyright so they can create and sell those same illustrations in various products like greeting cards, posters, etc., on their website.

Most often, when you hire an illustrator as a contractor, they do not receive royalties but that is not always the case.

Think strategically about what works best for you and your book. There are marketing opportunities to be had on both sides of the equation.

Illustrator receives royalties

It is possible to work collaboratively with an illustrator where they receive a percentage of the royalties generated from the book. Usually, this set-up is only done with large print runs by traditional publishers. As a self-publisher, your print runs will probably be much smaller and you’ll not find yourself in a royalty-sharing situation.

However, if your illustrator receive royalties, they will also maintain the copyright of their illustrations. You own the copyright of your text and they own the copyright of their work.

Again, not a common scenario for self-publishers, but it’s possible.

Hybrid of both

Your illustrator might propose a hybrid model that includes both payment (possibly reduced) for their illustrations and a percentage of the royalties. There might also be copyright negotiations to figure out.

If you each maintain your own copyright, you’ll file a copyright registration of the text (excluding illustration/images) and they will file a copyright of the illustrations/images (excluding the text) of the work.

Bim, bam, boom, $55 later and your work is legally protected.

What to do if you see copyright infringement?

If you see that someone is peddling your work as their own, email them or call them immediately and let them know that they are infringing on your copyright.

If you have your copyright registration certificate, you can hit them with that and threaten them with legal action. I guarantee, they’ll take down or stop whatever they are doing immediately. 

In summary

Copyright isn’t a tricky legal matter requiring lawyers. You can file on your own with the Copyright Office and it’s very cheap to register your work even if  you technically don’t need to file anything with anyone.

I advise that everyone file a copyright registration for your work so that you are legally recognized as the owner and creator of your work. 

If working with an illustrator,  determine what makes financial sense for you and your illustrator, give credit in the most public way to all members of the team, and you’ll have no issues finding an illustrator who would love to work with you.