One of the most recognizable theme songs in television history is now the subject of a lawsuit by the heirs of the men who wrote it.
The federal court suit against CBS claims that the network is using the work, titled “Theme For the Andy Griffith Show,” without a license. The whistling theme opened and closed the show. Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer wrote the tune in the 1950s and registered its copyright in 1960, according to the complaint, which was filed Thursday in California federal court.
Rights to the theme music were transferred to a partnership, Larrabee Music. Upon the songwriters’ deaths, the rights were transferred to The Diana R. Spencer Trust and the Hagen Family Trust. They, in turn, dissolved Larrabee and gave partial copyright ownership to the Hagen Children’s Trust and the Hagen Decedent’s Trust.
The suit claims CBS is selling DVDs of the series without licensing the music. CBS is, according to the complaint, relying on a 1978 agreement between Viacom and Mayberry Enterprises concerning rights to the series. But that agreement doesn’t cover DVDs.
“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 heirs are asking for an injunction to stop CBS from exploiting the theme and is seeking damages for direct and contributory copyright infringement.
CBS declined comment, saying it had not yet received the complaint.