If you’re a fan of popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory, chances are you know the song Soft Kitty, which has been sung on the show many times. Now, CBS is being challenged for ownership of the tune by the daughters of the late poet who originally wrote the lyrics, as reported by Deadline.
Soft Kitty is the tune that lead the mother of Jim Parson’s geeky character Sheldon to sing to him as a child to get him to sleep. Now a prominent physicist, it seems Sheldon still responds to the soothing tune when he needs calming down, or to be comforted in bed. Everyone from his best friend Leonard (Johnny Galecki) to his next-door neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) has sung the song to him over the course of the show.
The song has become so popular thanks to the show’s success that CBS has profited from it, marketing a ton of merchandise around it, including T-shirts, plush toys, keychains, coffee mugs, and hoodies.
Originally called Warm Kitty, poet Edith Newlin penned lyrics that are strikingly similar to those featured in the song, including “soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur. Happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr, purr, purr.” In Big Bang’s version, the lyrics go: “soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur. Sleepy kitty, happy kitty, purr, purr purr.”
Newlin’s daughters, Margaret Perry and Ellen Chase, want to be compensated by CBS for the use of their mother’s lyrics. They filed a suit today in New York, alleging that Soft Kitty played a major role in character development. That may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s clear that CBS has profited from the words, and continues to feature them in various episodes. To date, Soft Kitty has appeared in at least eight episodes over the show’s nine seasons, dating back to its first appearance in 2008. The song most recently appeared in an episode of season eight that aired in January 2015.
While the similarities in the lyrics are more than obvious, the situation really comes down to ownership.
Publishing company Willis Music reportedly purchased a book in which the song appeared, called Songs for the Nursery School, back in the ’30s and the company says that Warner Bros., which produces The Big Bang Theory, legally licensed the song for use in the show. The book of nursery rhymes features Warm Kitty, and was written by Laura Pendleton MacCarteney. The case, then, depends on whether the lyrics to the song were, in fact, legally owned by Willis Music when they purchased rights to the book in which it appeared, or if Newlin herself still retained rights.
That will come down to what’s written in the contract between Willis Music and Newlin. But if Newlin did retain the rights, Soft Kitty could see Newlin’s offspring purr contently as they make some big bank.