Wisconsin poet alleges CBS lifted her copyrighted work for use in Criminal Minds episode

By Sherry Jiao | Apr 27, 2015

A Wisconsin woman is claiming copyright infringement over a popular television show’s alleged use of her poem without giving her credit.

Susan Lynn Kugler filed suit on April 17 in federal court in Chicago against defendants CBS Studios, Paramount Home Entertainment, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment and ABC Studios.

Kugler, who is represented by attorney Mark H. Barinholtz, of Chicago, alleges the television studios and entertainment distribution companies altered a copyrighted poem she had written, and used the poem, without her authorization or knowledge, as lyrics to an opening musical sequence for the fifth season finale of CBS’ successful police drama television show, Criminal Minds, in May 2010.

“To establish the mood for the infringing episode, defendants incorporated the work verbatim, together with another verse, and adapted same as a lyric for a musical theme, a song which can be heard prominently to accompany the opening visual montage, and precede main title credits, at the beginning of the infringing episode,” Kugler said in her complaint.

The episode, titled Our Darkest Hour, which allegedly includes the lyrics she claims were written using her poem, has since reached audiences worldwide, as it has aired on television re-runs and has been distributed on commercially marketed DVDs and through on-demand and online streaming video services, including Netflix. She notes an advertisement related to the episode on Amazon.com and the DVD jacket for the commercially marketed discs containing the episode also include no attribution to her for the lyrics used in the allegedly infringing musical sequence.

According to synopsis published on CBS’ website, the episode tells the tale of a crime-fighting unit’s investigation into a series of homicides during home invasions coinciding with rolling blackouts in Los Angeles.

Kugler alleges she wrote and digitally published a poem called “Mask” in 2007 as part of a larger anthology, titled Poetry in Emotion by Bunny. Kugler, who resided in Waukegan at the time, said she obtained all the copyright rights to her poem in the same year.

She said, as a condition of publication in the anthology, she mandated any reproduction or other use of the poem be “accompanied by a visible copyright notice and/or attribution of authorship” to her.

Kugler said she discovered the alleged unauthorized use of her copyrighted work through the television studios’ “touting” and distribution of the episode “all without any permission or authorization from Kugler or any credit in Kugler as the author of the work.”

The three-count complaint alleges copyright infringement and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by the studios and two unknown John Does, who, the complaint says, were “acting in concert” with the television studios, and were “a conscious, active and dominant force” behind the decision to allegedly use her copyrighted work and distribute it without her authorization.

Kugler has asked the court to award damages of more than $150,000 for the alleged infringement, as well as $25,000 for each violation and recovery of her attorney fees and court costs in pursuing the action.

She also asked the court to bar the media companies from continuing to distribute the episode containing the alleged infringing work, and compel the media companies to destroy all forms and copies of the episode, as well as all promotional and advertising material related to the episode and other unauthorized matter which contain the copyrighted material.

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