FILE PHOTO: Jerry Seinfeld arrives for the premiere of the movie “A Star Is Born” in Los Angeles, California, U.S. September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
September 30, 2019
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Jerry Seinfeld has defeated a lawsuit claiming he stole the Netflix hit “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” from a former colleague who said he had pitched the idea for the show a decade before its debut.
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan on Monday said Christian Charles took too long to sue, having waited six years to file his lawsuit after Seinfeld had in 2012 rejected his copyright claim. The statute of limitations was three years.
“Today’s victory is a complete vindication,” Seinfeld’s lawyer, Orin Snyder, said in a statement. “Jerry created ‘Comedians in Cars’ and this lawsuit was nothing but a money-grab seeking to capitalize on the success of the show. We are pleased that the court saw through the noise.”
Charles, who said he had worked with Seinfeld since 1994, said he mentioned the idea to Seinfeld for “Comedians in Cars” as early as 2002, when pitching a project called “Two Stupid Guys in a Stupid Car Driving to a Stupid Town.”
He said he reminded Seinfeld of that pitch when the comedian in 2011 said he was mulling an idea that became “Comedians in Cars.”
Their relationship allegedly broke down after the pilot, which Charles directed, was shot in October 2011, and Charles sought more credit and compensation than Seinfeld wanted to give.
Netflix and Sony Pictures Television are among the other defendants. “Comedians in Cars” began broadcasting on Crackle, and moved to Netflix last year.
“We are, of course, disappointed,” Peter Skolnik, a lawyer for Charles, said in an email where he also faulted Seinfeld’s alleged “egregious, shabby conduct.” Skolnik said he would speak with Charles to discuss their next steps.
Seinfeld had argued that Charles sued only after having “learned” that “Comedians in Cars” had become a hit, and that Netflix was paying $750,000 an episode.
Nathan, however, said it mattered more that Charles had been aware in 2012 that the show, which does not credit him, was being made.
“Charles believed that ‘Seinfeld would eventually acknowledge Charles’ authorship and ownership and bring him in,'” Nathan wrote, quoting from the complaint. “Because Charles was on notice that his ownership claim had been repudiated since at least 2012, his infringement claim is time-barred.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)