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Comedian in Car Clear of Copyright Claim

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - JULY 17: Jerry Seinfeld attends the LA Tastemaker event for Comedians in Cars at The Paley Center for Media on July 17, 2019 in Beverly Hills City. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on May 08, 2020 3:01 PM

Jerry Seinfeld is still working during the pandemic. His new Netflix stand-up special, taped last year, just released. He is appearing on talk shows from his home in Long Island. However, he has given hints that his popular show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, may be over.

Seinfeld might be less incentivized to quit the show, however, after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the famous comedian in a lawsuit over who first had the idea. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which now airs on Netflix, paid Seinfeld $750,000 an episode in 2018, when the lawsuit was filed.

Christian Charles, a longtime collaborator, claimed in the lawsuit that he first came up with the idea in 2002. Charles directed the pilot episode in 2011 and alleged that he wrote the treatment, direction, and did other work for the pilot. Charles claimed to have expected to be a part of the show on an ongoing basis, as well as produce the series. However, Seinfeld and Charles disagreed over Charles' role and compensation in 2012, and when the show premiered in 2012 on Crackle, Charles received no credit.

Copyright Claim Was Time-Barred

This amounted to a public repudiation of Charles' ownership claim to the show, according to the district court, which led to the court dismissing the claim in 2019 because it was time-barred. A plaintiff claiming ownership of a disputed work has three years to bring a claim of infringement once the claim has accrued. The claim accrues when “a reasonably diligent plaintiff" discovers that ownership is disputed. In this case, that included being omitted from the credits when it debuted.

The Second Circuit's summary order, issued Thursday, agreed with the district court's dismissal. While Charles attempted to distinguish his case, claiming that the dispute was not over ownership, but authorship, and was therefore not time-barred, the panel agreed with district court's “well-reasoned opinion" that noted “authorship is merely one path to ownership."

The lawsuit had sought damages for copyright infringement, as well as injunctive relief. While it's unlikely any new episodes of the popular show will be filmed anytime soon, Seinfeld is free to pursue more episodes in the future if he wishes.

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