July 25, 2019
The heirs of the creators of The Andy Griffith Show’s theme song are suing CBS Television Distribution, a subsidiary of CBS Corporation, claiming copyright infringement for selling DVDs that contain the theme song. Hagen Publishing Group Inc. and The Diana R. Spencer Trust claim that they hold the copyright through a series of copyright transfers upon the deaths of the authors.
In their complaint filed in California Federal Court, the heirs argue that, in order to distribute the show both on DVD and digitally, CBS is relying on a 1978 agreement between Viacom (CBS’ predecessor) and Mayberry Enterprises, who previously owned the series. However, the complaint states that “CBS has produced no evidence that Mayberry had a subsisting license to the Theme, that these rights were transferable, or that they encompassed home video or any other associated forms of media”. According to the complaint, CBS both refused to enter into a new licensing agreement with the plaintiffs and has further licensed the theme song to “digital services, including iTunes and Amazon for distribution”. Accordingly, the plaintiffs have requested an injunction to stop CBS from distributing the theme song, the recovery of legal fees, and actual damages, including statutory damages.
With the rising popularity of online video and music streaming, many classic television shows and songs are being reproduced. While this offers exciting opportunities for the entertainment industry, this case serves as a reminder of the complex relationship between copyright law and modern media and technology.
Authors: Sarah Stothart and Andrew Patel