Music News

Published on May 31st, 2019 | by Amber Healy


Whistling to the courthouse: Songwriters’ families sues over Andy Griffith Show theme

The Andy Griffith Show went off the air more than 50 years ago, leaving behind Andy, Opie, Aunt Bea, Barney Fife and the rest of the Mayberry gang.

The cast and crew left behind a song that’s bound to get
stuck in your head as soon as it’s mentioned, and that song is now in the
center of a legal copyright battle, a very un-Andy thing to do.

The song, written by Earl Hagen and Herbert Spencer, was
copyrighted in 1960, and that copyright now belongs to Hagen Publishing Group,
Inc., and the Diana R. Spencer Trust.

As descendants of the authors of one of TV’s most
recognizable theme songs, they claim CBS is being very un-neighbourghly,
relying on a 1978 agreement between Viacom (which predates CBS) and Mayberry
Enterprises, the company that owned the rights to the TV show in its early

The songwriters’ family member now claim CBS/Viacom is
violating their relatives’ copyright by selling DVDs of the show without first
obtaining rights to the theme song.

“CBS has produced no evidence that Mayberry had a subsisting
license to the theme, that these rights were transferrable, or that they
encompass home video or any other associated media forms,” the lawsuit states,
according to several
There’s no reference to home video or other in-house entertainment use on an
individual basis for the show or, by extension, the song.

The estates go a step further, saying CBS took the liberty
of licensing the oh-so-famous song for distribution on digital
, including iTunes and Amazon, without first securing the proper

Streaming, DVDs – heck, even VHS wasn’t in the vernacular
when ol’ Andy was running the place. How could the companies involved even
think to create usage rights for things so far ahead of their time as to be
inconceivable and not dissimilar to magic in the late 1960s?

The heirs are asking for an injunction to stop CBS from
selling DVDs or putting the song on streaming platforms without giving them
their due. They’re claiming direct and contributory copyright infringement.

CBS, on the other hand, has so far declined to comment on
the lawsuit, with the broadcast giant saying it hasn’t yet seen or received the

If the descendants of the writers
are successful, could that open the door for other relatives of songwriters
from hit TV shows during the dawn of the television era? Possibly! It’s also a
good reminder that copyright law matters and can mean very big bucks.

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About the Author

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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