Warner Bros. Was Once Sued Over the Use of ‘Soft Kitty’ on ‘The Big Bang Theory’

Sheldon Cooper might have been a genius, but he wasn’t above enjoying sweet memories from his childhood. In fact, every time Sheldon got sick, he required anyone within earshot to sing him to sleep. He didn’t want to hear just any song, though; Sheldon insisted his friends sang a song from his childhood, titled “Soft Kitty.” The song became a hit of its own among fans of the show, but If you thought the writers of The Big Bang Theory dreamt up “Soft Kitty” on their own, you’d be mistaken. Warner Bros. and CBS were sued for their use of the lyrics.

How many times was “Soft Kitty” sang on The Big Bang Theory

“Soft Kitty” first appeared in the first season of The Big Bang Theory. Fans of the series note that Penny first sang the song to Sheldon, after much prompting, in episode 11. The song was sung eight more times during the run of the show.

Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper
Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper | Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

Although the song was from Sheldon’s childhood, several characters sang the song to him as a stand-in from his mother, who was said to have introduced him to the ditty. At one point, Sheldon even sings the song to Penny after she dislocated her shoulder. He also breaks into song to cheer up Professor Proton in season 6. Leonard and Penny sing the song as a duet in season eight, and it appeared one more time in season 10. In season 10, Amy takes on the role of songstress to lull Sheldon to sleep.

Where did the song come from?

The song that became so synonymous with Sheldon was actually a poem crafted in the 1930s. According to Vulture, a woman named Edith Newlin penned the poem in the late 1930s, then sold the rights to the poem to Willis Music. Willis Music took the poem and published it in a popular book called Songs for the Nursery School. It appeared with dozens of other songs that could be used in educational settings.

The publisher sold thousands of copies of the book in the 1930s and 1940s. They have kept the copyright on their music current. Willis Music permitted Warner Bros. to use the song in The Big Bang Theory, according to a statement on their website.

The lawsuit against Warner Bros. was dropped in 2017

In 2015, Newlin’s children filed a lawsuit alleging that CBS and Warner Bros. infringed on their copyright by using “Soft Kitty” in the series and on merchandise. Newlin, who died in 2004, was never credited for the lyrics to the song, and fans had no idea that “Soft Kitty” was a preexisting work prior to the lawsuit.

Reuters noted that the lawsuit was dismissed in 2017 when a US District Court Judge ruled that the plaintiffs could not prove that they owned the copyright to the lyrics associated with “Soft Kitty.” According to court papers, the judge claimed that Newlin’s heirs had not updated any copyright associated with the poem or the lyrics and that their copyright was not automatically renewed when Willis Music updated their publication’s copyright.

“Soft Kitty” remains heavily quoted by The Big Bang Theory fans, even after the series wrapped production. The series, which aired its final episode in May 2019, will soon have a streaming home. The show will be part of HBO Max’s blockbuster library when the service launches on May 27, 2020.