‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Theme Song Was Once the Subject of a Legal Dispute

by Matthew Wilson
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“The Andy Griffith Show” may have gone off the air over 50 years ago. But it still managed to be the subject of a lawsuit all these years later.

Back in 2019, the show became the center of a legal dispute between CBS and the heirs of songwriters Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer. It all came down to that iconic whistle that starts and ends each episode. The songwriters’ estates accused CBS of breaching copyright law.

The “Theme For the Andy Griffith Show” has been a part of the show since its inception. Both Hagen and Spencer wrote the tune back in the 1950s, according to Deadline. It continues to be featured in re-runs airing in syndication on local channels ever since.

But the estates claim CBS started selling DVDs of “The Andy Griffith Show” without getting permission. You see, both songwriters registered the copyright back in 1960. They partnered together for Larrabee Music, which held the right to the song until their deaths. When they passed away, ownership was transferred to the Diana R. Spencer Trust, Hagen Family Trust, Hagen Children’s Trust, and also the Hagen Descendent’s Trust as well.

These four entities took issue with CBS selling DVDs with the theme music without properly licensing it out from them.

CBS, of course, had a rebuttal to these claims. They pointed out that Viacom struck an agreement with Mayberry Enterprises in 1978 for all rights to the series. In 2019, CBS and Viacom merged into one entity meaning they shared agreements and contracts.

But back in the 1970s, DVDs were little more than a crazy dream of the future. So, the media wasn’t included in that agreement. When the trusts reached out to strike a new deal, CBS balked at paying money for the rights. So, the trusts took the matter to the California courts.

“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.”

This was all back in 2019. But it doesn’t appear as if the matter was resolved, at least not in court. Legal battles over copyrights can sometimes turn hairy. But it’s been silent on this front since the lawsuit was announced. Fortunately, proceedings don’t seem to affect how viewers can watch “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Outsider.com