Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer wrote “Theme for the Andy Griffith Show” in the ’50s, and registered its copyright in 1960, according to the complaint filed Thursday in California federal court. Their rights in the work were later transferred to their partnership, Larrabee Music. After their deaths, The Diana R. Spencer Trust and the Hagen Family Trust inherited the rights and eventually dissolved Larrabee and gave partial copyright ownership to the Hagen Children’s Trust and the Hagen Decedent’s Trust.
Now the heirs claim CBS is exploiting the theme without a license by selling DVDs of the series. They argue the network is relying on an 1978 agreement between Viacom and Mayberry Enterprises concerning rights to the series and that the agreement doesn’t include home video or other modern media.
“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,” writes 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 heirs are suing for direct and contributory copyright infringement and are asking the court for an injunction to stop CBS from exploiting the theme, as well as seeking either actual damages and disgorgement of the network’s profits or statutory damages.