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.