It seems like a simple enough idea: Get some comedians together and record their off-the-cuff conversations. These guys and gals have to be funny all the time, right? And who better to host than Jerry Seinfeld? But now there’s some legal disagreement over who actually came up with the idea, with Seinfeld saying the new copyright claims came only after a former director found out how much the comedian was making per episode after the show was picked up by Netflix last year.
“It seems to me that every single person everywhere is under attack in their comments section of whatever they think or whatever they said,” Seinfeld told the AP when discussing the litigation. “It’s unfortunate when it’s a … friend, and they decide to go for the money instead … That’s not the nicest moment, but I’m used to it.”
Creative Participants Coming Out of the Woodwork
According to Business Insider, Seinfeld was sued by Christian Charles, who claims he pitched the show idea to Seinfeld in 2002 and directed the pilot almost ten years later. And according to the motion to dismiss the suit filed by Seinfeld’s attorneys, Charles is only seeking money after finding out the comedian was getting $750,000 per episode, and, in any case, the lawsuit is too late:
“Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff had a role in directing the Pilot … This is not surprising, as all creative works that make their way to television require the contributions of numerous participants. … Nevertheless, the case law is littered with examples of creative participants coming out of the woodwork to claim copyright ownership of a creative work after it has achieved financial success. The Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations exists to ensure that any claims seeking ownership in a work are timely adjudicated, which ‘permits individuals to invest in the publication of copyrighted material without undue fear of litigation.’ Hardly an arbitrary obstacle, the statute of limitations furnishes the certainty and repose [that] are essential to the functioning of the copyright market. There must be certainty of copyright ownership and over the roles of artistic contributors to allow market participants to invest in a creative work, such as through licensing agreements and distribution deals. Here, SPT and Netflix signed deals with Mr. Seinfeld to stream the Show on their platforms and produce new episodes.”
Charles is seeking credit for creation of the show along with royalties, and the case will likely hinge on claims of ownership versus claims of copyright infringement. While claims based on the latter are barred after three years, the clock starts after the last infringement. With the show continuing, the time bomb that Seinfeld and his attorneys are hoping has been defused may still be ticking.