The family of a late New Hampshire nursery school teacher have sued the producers of The Big Bang Theory, alleging that the show has been using a song she wrote – “Soft Kitty” – in the 1930s without paying them for the rights or compensating them for its use, MSN is reporting.
If you’ve been watching The Big Bang Theory since the beginning, you’ve undoubtedly seen an episode where a character (usually Penny) sings the soothing lullaby “Soft Kitty” to another character (usually Sheldon) who is sick or anxious.
The song made its debut in Season 1 of The Big Bang Theory, in the episode “The Pancake Batter Anomaly,” and has been used in eight total episodes (so far), according to several sources. The lyrics also appear on officially-licensed show merchandise, such as T-shirts and stuffed animals. In other words, “Soft Kitty” is as much a part of The Big Bang Theory as Sheldon’s catchphrase “Bazinga!”
As it turns out, a couple of New England women, both comfortably in their 70s, somehow managed to live through the past eight years without ever having seen an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and thus, didn’t notice the song. And when they finally did catch an episode, they recognized “Soft Kitty” immediately. They say their mother wrote it over 80 years ago.
Edith Newlin was a nursery school teacher in Alstead, New Hampshire, who died at age 99 in 2004. In 1933, she penned a poem.
“Warm kitty, soft kitty / Little ball of fur / Sleepy kitty, happy kitty / Purr! Purr! Purr!”
Those words may sound quite familiar to you if you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory. The show uses those exact words, the only change being switching the first four words to “Soft kitty, warm kitty,” instead of Mrs. Newlin’s original lyrics.
Ellen Newlin Chase, Mrs. Newlin’s daughter, wasn’t familiar with The Big Bang Theory and wasn’t aware that her mother’s poem was being used on the show. She said she only became aware of it when she ran across a blog post discussing the song.
In a lawsuit filed this week in Manhattan, daughters Ellen Newlin Chase and Margaret Chase Perry claim that their mother gave one-time permission to Laura Pendleton MacCarteney to use the poem in a 1937 book of nursery rhymes by Willis Music, according to the New York Daily News.
In 2007, Big Bang Theory producers approached Willis Music and secured the rights to “Soft Kitty,” according to the lawsuit. The problem is, Mrs. Newlin’s daughters claim Willis Music never legally owned “Soft Kitty,” and it wasn’t theirs to sell.
“The Soft Kitty lyrics have played a prominent role in the development and portrayal of one of the central characters in the program, Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons), who is presented as a brilliant scientist with the emotional maturity of a child. As Sheldon has let others know in the course of the sitcom, beginning in the show’s first season, his mother sang the Soft Kitty lyrics to him as a child, and he still wants them to be sung to him when he is sick. Sheldon in turn sings the Soft Kitty lyrics to other characters on the show who are sick or troubled.”
The lawsuit names CBS, Warner Bros., Turner Broadcasting, and Fox, among others, as defendants. The women are seeking a cut of the profits plus unspecified damages. Considering the fact that “Soft Kitty” has appeared on a variety of pieces of Big Bang Theory merchandise, as well as on eight episodes that are in syndication, the lawsuit could be worth millions, if not tens of millions.
As of this writing, none of the producers of The Big Bang Theory have commented on the “Soft Kitty” lawsuit.
[Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]