‘Andy Griffith Show’ Theme Song The Subject Of Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

An old TV theme song is at the centre of a new lawsuit.

As Deadline reports, the descendants of the composers of the theme song for “The Andy Griffith Show” have launched a lawsuit, claiming that they haven’t been properly compensated for the song’s use in DVD releases of the classic sitcom.

A lawsuit filed Thursday  in California federal court lists CBS as defendant, alleging that the network has been using the theme song — appropriately titled “Theme For The Andy Griffith Show” — without license to do so.

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The familiar song — which features a whistled melody — opened and closed each episode of the sitcom, which ran from 1960 until 1968.

The song was composed by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer during the 1950s, with the complaint stating that its copyright was registered in 1960.

According to the lawsuit, the copyright to the theme was transferred to a partnership, Larrabee Music, and was subsequently transferred to family trusts upon the songwriters’ deaths. Those trusts effectively dissolved Larrabee Music, with the partial copyright ownership then transferred to the Hagen Children’s Trust and the Hagen Decedent’s Trust.

While the original agreements licensed the song’s use for television broadcast, that was not the case when it came to DVD releases of the show — with the most recent deal concerning rights lying with a 1978 agreement between Viacom (then parent company of CBS) and Mayberry Enterprises (which produced the show), as DVDs were still decades away from being invented.

The suit claims that when the series was later released on DVD, there was no agreement in place covering the copyright of the song, nor is there any agreement for streaming and digital.

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“CBS has refused to enter into a new agreement with Plaintiffs to authorize its exploitation of the Theme in additional media or to otherwise cease conducting such unauthorized exploitation,” said attorney Neville Johnson in the complaint. “To the contrary, Plaintiffs have since learned that CBS has licensed the Series to digital services such as iTunes and Amazon for distribution and public performance.”

The songwriters’ heirs are seeking an injunction to halt CBS from using the theme, in addition to damages for “direct and contributory copyright infringement.”

CBS, reports Deadline, could not be reached for comment about the suit.

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