Jerry Seinfeld Wins BS 'Comedians In Cars' Copyright Suit That Was Filed Way, Way Too Late

from the hello...jerry dept

Copyright statute of limitations cases are relatively rare, but we have written about a few such cases at times. Still, here's a new ruling that tosses out a case based on the statute of limitations, involving a guy suing Jerry Seinfeld claiming infringement over the latter's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee series. Though, it seems like the case could have been defeated other ways as well, even if it had been filed within the statute of limitations.

U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan of the Southern District of New York ruled Monday that the suit by Christian Charles, a writer and director who worked with Seinfeld on the show’s pilot, was barred under the three-year statute of limitations for copyright infringement claims.

In a nine-page ruling, Nathan said that Charles knew about his potential claim for ownership as early as 2011, when Seinfeld twice rejected his request for back-end compensation on “Comedians in Cars,” making it clear that Charles’ only involvement was on a work-for-hire basis.

But Charles, who claimed to have pitched the idea of two friends “driving and talking” to Seinfeld, did not file his lawsuit until February 2018.

Which was roughly around the time that Seinfeld took the show from its fun little origins on Crackle and inked a lucrative deal for the series with Netflix, where it now resides. Suddenly Charles asserted a copyright claim, stating that it was his idea to have a comedian hosting a talk show of sorts by driving around in a car and getting coffee. And if you're thinking that such a claim would be defeated by the idea/expression dichotomy in copyright law, well, you're right. It almost certainly would have. Such a concept is plainly a broad idea and not the kind of specific expression over which one can successfully sue on copyright grounds. Add to all of that that Seinfeld claims that Charles' work on the pilot was work for hire, for which he was paid a six figure sum, and the lawsuit sure seemed like a loser from the get-go.

But the suit didn't even get that far, as the judge tossed it over the 3 year statute of limitations instead.

“Even if all inferences are drawn in favor of Charles, a reasonably diligent plaintiff would have understood that Seinfeld was repudiating any claim of ownership that Charles may have,” Nathan wrote.

“Because Charles was on notice that his ownership claim had been repudiated since at least 2012, his infringement claim is time-barred,” she said.

Charles' attorney states they intend to appeal on the grounds that the judge is misinterpreting the statute of limitations. As to what that misinterpretation might be? Well, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Filed Under: christian charles, comedians in cars, copyright, idea expression dichotomy, jerry seinfeld, statute of limitations


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 8:21pm

    Copyright’s best and blightest, everybody!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 8:37pm

    Tossed

    And that is what is means to have your case tossed on it's ass by a judge before it can go to jury.

    Even if everything the contestant claims is correct - you have no case. Because you aren't following the rules. Which most copyright cases don't, really...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kev Yassem, 3 Oct 2019 @ 9:41pm

    NO SUE FOR YOU!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 12:22am

    Congress needs to make copyright law consistent... /s/

    The statute of limitations for copyright lawsuits should, for consistency's sake, match the term of the copyright in question-- life plus seventy years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 8:37am

      Re: Congress needs to make copyright law consistent... /s/

      /s/ tag acknowledged - Seriously though, I'd rather it went the other way - make copyright only last 3 years :)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 12:28am

    "Which was roughly around the time that Seinfeld took the show from its fun little origins on Crackle and inked a lucrative deal for the series with Netflix, where it now resides"

    Bingo. When it was a relatively low budget show on a site with relatively low viewing figures, he didn't care. He asked a couple of times, was turned down, it was worth a shot. But then, it was reported that Seinfeld was paid around $100 million for the show and other specials, so he decided he wanted in on the action.

    That's about as nakedly transparent as you can get.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 3:46am

      Re:

      And it's not like Seinfeld is ripping off anyone. Being paid six figures for work-for-hire writing is VERY generous. I know Star Trek Discovery writers would KILL for even half that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 4:52am

    “But Charles, who claimed to have pitched the idea of two friends “driving and talking” to Seinfeld, . . .”

    Remember. It’s not a lie if you believe it’s true.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 5:17am

    It's a show about nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 7:50am

      Re:

      While Seinfeld himself is an insufferable ass, at least his guests are usually funny and interesting. All of his guests' egos added together are still easily eclipsed by Seinfeld's and he was never funny or interesting, only the people around him. If he was half as smart as he thinks he is he'd understand that and check his self image.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 10:54am

        Re: Re:

        I have not watched it, but did watch the sitcom.
        There was an episode where they were attempting to sell their show to producers, who wanted to know what the show was about ...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 2:48pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          GEORGE: See, this should be a show. This is the show.

          JERRY: What?

          GEORGE: This. Just talking.

          JERRY: (dismissing) Yeah, right.

          GEORGE: I'm really serious. I think that's a good idea.

          JERRY: Just talking? Well what's the show about?

          GEORGE: It's about nothing.

          JERRY: No story?

          GEORGE: No, forget the story.

          JERRY: You've got to have a story.

          GEORGE: Who says you gotta have a story? Remember when we were waiting for, for that table in that Chinese restaurant that time? That could be a TV show.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2019 @ 3:11pm

        Re: Re:

        I think Seinfeld was very funny playing off the antics of his cast. Love the show Jerry. Genius humor about a day in the life of some pretty funny goofballs!!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 4:30pm

    Jerry throws the best partays!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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