Christian Charles, a writer and director, and well-known comedian Jerry Seinfeld, had collaborated on various projects. During one of their conversations, Charles suggested to Seinfeld that they create a television show based on the concept of two friends talking and driving. In 2011, Seinfeld allegedly mentioned to Charles that he was considering a talk show about “comedians driving in a car to a coffee place and just ‘chatting,'” as his next project. They then purportedly agreed to work together on the endeavor.
Charles then generated a treatment which he claims captures the “look and feel” of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee as well as a “synopsis, camera shot list with visual camera angles, and a script.” He claimed he had an understanding with Seinfeld that his company would produce the series and was concerned when Seinfeld brought in a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Television to produce it. According to Charles when he requested compensation and a share of backend profits, Seinfeld objected to giving him anything other than paying him to direct some episodes.
Charles alleges that “Seinfeld did not claim authorship or ownership of the Pilot” even though “Charles had often reminded Seinfeld” that the idea for the show came from him.
In 2017, Netflix inked a lucrative new deal for the show, leading Charles to contact Seinfeld. Seinfeld’s lawyer responded, stating that Seinfeld was the creator and owner of the show.
Seinfeld and other Defendants went on to produce and distribute the show without giving any credit to Charles. The Netflix deal has been reported to have a $100 million-dollar production budget with Seinfeld earning about half a million dollars per episode. More than 80 episodes have been produced. Charles filed suit in 2018 claiming among other things, copyright infringement.
Seinfeld argued that this lawsuit was a frivolous attempt to capitalize on the success of the show and that Charles requested compensation “five-and-a-half years after the Show premiered” “claiming for the first time to be its creator. As far back as February 2012, Seinfeld claimed he had rejected Charles’s requests and made it clear that his involvement would be as a paid hand on a work-for-hire basis. Moreover, the show premiered in July 2012 without crediting Charles, at which point it should have been clear to Charles that Seinfeld was disputing any copyright claim he might have.
This delay, Seinfeld argued, barred Charles claims. Claims under the Copyright Act must be brought within three years after the claim has accrued” under 17 U.S.C. § 507(b). The District Court agreed, and on appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed that dismissal. 
This case is a good example of why it is important that if you have a claim, do not delay pursuing it.
Read the District Court opinion.
Read the Court of Appeals decision.