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Songwriters' heirs sue CBS over use of iconic theme song

Most everyone knows the theme song to the class television series The Andy Griffith Show -- even though it was simply whistled. The show, which ran from 1960 to 1968 reflected a simple world that seemed far removed from the turbulent times the country was living through. It's still seen in reruns and across multiple media platforms nearly sixty years after its debut.

The two men who wrote the song, Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer, registered the copyright for it in 1960. The rights were later transferred to Larrabee Music, which was the company in which they were partners. After both men died, their families' trusts inherited the rights to the song.

The heirs claim that CBS is not authorized to use it in DVDs of the series or on digital platforms, including Amazon and iTunes, which the network has licensed the show to. They are suing the network for copyright infringement, alleging that it is using the song without a license.

They claim that CBS is relying on an agreement signed between Mayberry Enterprises and Viacom in 1978. That agreement, however, did not cover videos, DVDs and other media that had not yet been invented.

The suit says that "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."

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the network from exploiting the theme. They're also seeking damages as well as "the disgorgement of any and all gains, profits and advantages obtained by Defendants" from the use of the song.

Parties that entered into legal agreements from decades ago regarding intellectual property may have the same issues if they're not updated to reflect the many types of media platforms available today. If you run into issues with this, regardless of which side you're on, it's wise to consult an experienced intellectual property attorney.

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