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

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)_/¯.

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