NEW YORK — Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” was his creation despite copyright claims by a one-time collaborator who helped direct the first episode, an appeals court said Thursday.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled against writer Christian Charles in a five-paragraph written order upholding a decision by Judge Alison J. Nathan.
It concluded a case over a popular show that debuted in 2012, originating as an online streaming program that was distributed by Sony Pictures Television through Crackle before being sold to Netflix in 2017.
Days ago, Seinfeld told reporters while promoting his new Netflix special, “Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill,” that he might be finished with it after 11 seasons and 84 episodes.
Charles said in his February 2018 lawsuit that he worked with Seinfeld on projects for nearly two decades, including on American Express commercials and the documentary “Comedian.”
He said the concept of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” arose as they filmed the documentary with a scene of Seinfeld and friend Barry Marder driving across the George Washington Bridge in Seinfeld’s vintage Volkswagen Beetle.
Charles said he suggested in November 2001 that they create a television show featuring two friends driving and talking in a car that could be titled “Two Stupid Guys In A Stupid Car Driving To A Stupid Town.” He said Seinfeld rejected it.
He said the comedian told him a decade later during a meeting conversation at a Southampton diner that he wanted to create a show about comedians driving in a car to a coffee place and just “chatting.”
He said Seinfeld was difficult during the first episode, grumbling that he “did not know what the idea was anymore” and that the idea “maybe wasn’t good after all.”
But he said Seinfeld liked the pilot episode.
The lawsuit sought $150,000 for each infringement of a copyright Charles obtained with a slightly different title: “Comedians in Cars Going for Coffee.”
Seinfeld’s lawyers said Charles only sued after learning Netflix had allegedly paid $750,000 per episode.
“This is precisely the type of belated tactical and opportunistic strike suit the statute of limitations is designed to stamp out,” the lawyers wrote.
They said Charles waited beyond the three-year statute of limitations to sue even though he had been paid over $100,000 and after Seinfeld said in 2012 that the show was his idea.
In her September ruling, Nathan agreed, saying: “Because Charles was on notice that his ownership claim had been repudiated since at least 2012, his infringement claim is time-barred.”
Seinfeld’s lawyers said the show wasn’t particularly unique, noting that British newspapers once called it a “rip off” of Robert Llewellyn’s web series, “Carpool.”
They said dozens of similar shows shared common elements, including “Carpool Karaoke,” “Jay Leno’s Garage,” “Too Many Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” “Comedians on Bikes Getting Soup,” “Comedians Walking & Getting Mani-Pedis” and “Cougars in Cars Getting Cosmos.”
“These shows are proof positive that the Show’s concept is generic and stock, that it belongs to the world, and that it is not subject to copyright protection,” they said.