Court Of Appeals Affirms Lower Court Tossing BS 'Comedians In Cars' Copyright Lawsuit

from the what's-the-deal-with-that? dept

Six months ago, which feels like roughly an eternity at this point, we discussed how Jerry Seinfeld and others won an absolutely ludicrous copyright suit filed against them by Christian Charles, a writer and director Seinfeld hired to help him create the pilot episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. What was so strange about the case is that this pilot had been created in 2012, whereas the lawsuit was only filed in 2018. That coincides with Seinfeld inking a lucrative deal with Netflix to stream his show.

It's not the most well known aspect of copyright law, but there is, in fact, a statute of limitations for copyright claims and it's 3 years. The requirement in the statute is that the clock essentially starts running once someone who would bring a copyright claim has had their ownership of a work disputed publicly, or has been put on notice. Seinfeld argued that he told Charles he was employing him in a work-for-hire arrangement, which would satisfy that notice. His lawyers also pointed out that Charles goes completely uncredited in the pilot episode, which would further put him on notice. The court tossed the case based on the statute of limitations.

For some reason, Charles appealed the ruling. Well, now the Court of Appeals has affirmed that lower ruling, which hopefully means we can all get back to not filing insane lawsuits, please.

We conclude that the district court was correct in granting defendants’ motion to dismiss, for substantially the same reasons that it set out in its well-reasoned opinion. The dispositive issue in this case is whether Charles’s alleged “contributions . . . qualify [him] as the author and therefore owner” of the copyrights to the show. Kwan, 634 F.3d at 229. Charles disputes that his claim centers on ownership. But that argument is seriously undermined by his statements in various filings throughout this litigation which consistently assert that ownership is a central question.

Charles’s infringement claim is therefore time-barred because his ownership claim is time-barred. The district court identified two events described in the Second Amended Complaint that would have put a reasonably diligent plaintiff on notice that his ownership claims were disputed. First, in February 2012, Seinfeld rejected Charles’s request for backend compensation and made it clear that Charles’s involvement would be limited to a work-for-hire basis. See Gary Friedrich Enters., LLC v. Marvel Characters, Inc., 716 F.3d 302, 318 (2d Cir. 2013) (noting that a copyright ownership claim would accrue when the defendant first communicates to the plaintiff that the defendant considers the work to be a work-for-hire). Second, the show premiered in July 2012 without crediting Charles, at which point his ownership claim was publicly repudiated. See Kwan, 634 F.3d at 227. Either one of these developments was enough to place Charles on notice that his ownership claim was disputed and therefore this action, filed six years later, was brought too late.

And that should bring this all to a close, hopefully. This seems like a pretty clear attempt at a money grab by Charles once Seinfeld's show became a Netflix cash-cow. Unfortunately, time is a measurable thing and his lawsuit was very clearly late.

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Filed Under: 2nd circuit, christian charles, comedians in cars, comedians in cars getting coffee, copyright, jerry seinfeld


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  • identicon
    Kev Yassem, 8 May 2020 @ 4:40pm

    I said come back ONE YEAR!!!

    Still NO SUE FOR YOU!!!

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

  • identicon
    Crafty Coyote, 8 May 2020 @ 4:45pm

    "This seems like a pretty clear attempt at a money grab."

    Aren't all the copyright infringement suits essentially money grabs?

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

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 8 May 2020 @ 5:23pm

    Unfortunately, time is a measurable thing

    Only relatively.

    Maybe he'd been travelling at a substantial fraction of the speed of light for the 6(?) earth-frame-of-reference-years, so for him it was less than 3?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2020 @ 1:05am

      Re:

      If he has some means if traveling that fast, the a cash grab via copyright would be quite silly considering how much cash would be thrown at him by many wealthy parties in exchange for releasing his method of travel to them.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2020 @ 8:33am

        Re: Re:

        Fine. Maybe he was asleep for 3 or 4 years like Rip van Winkle or in a coma and now that he's awake, in his mind he still has time to file his suit.

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

        • identicon
          Crafty Coyote, 9 May 2020 @ 3:56pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I feel as though somebody should go into a cryogenic sleep just to be able to use now-copyrighted works when they wake up a hundred years from now

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2020 @ 6:47pm

    Considering the success rate in awakening those who've been put cryogenic sleep, I would support that plan for anyone who wants a cash grab via copyright. In fact, I think it would be perfect if everyone, who wishes to maximize copyrights, were to undergo such treatment.

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

    • identicon
      Crafty Coyote, 10 May 2020 @ 12:31pm

      Re:

      Would make an interesting sci-fi story, a modern day "sleeper of Ephesus" disgusted with long copyright terms who goes into a coma for a hundred years, just to enjoy full use of the cultural expressions when he started once his "nap" is finished.

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

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 5:44am

        Re: Re:

        "...goes into a coma for a hundred years, just to enjoy full use of the cultural expressions when he started once his "nap" is finished."

        ...only to find copyright maximalists have extended, reapplied, or redefined copyright to the point where not a single work has been released into the public domain since 2030.

        Also, he's being sued over lost revenues for waking up as the copyrighted work "Sleeping for a century", inspired by his cryogenic capsule, is devalued now that it no longer reflects a man in eternal sleep.

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

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 10 May 2020 @ 12:46am

    Worth noting a British TV and web series with the same premise had been running 3 years before they filmed their entirely original copyrightable idea, and James Cordon had already recorded what was effectively the pilot for Carpool Karaoke.

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

  • icon
    nahid (profile), 10 May 2020 @ 1:20am

    Still NO SUE FOR YOU!!!

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

  • icon
    Darkness Of Course (profile), 10 May 2020 @ 12:57pm

    Copyrights v Patents

    With all the patent troll lawsuits with triple rewards for delayed litigation one wonders if the clown in question, and his lawyer, thought the law was similar to patent law.

    When grabbing for someone else's cash, any law in the book seems to be a fan favorite.

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


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