Jerry Seinfeld wins court battle over ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’

Pilot director wanted ownership rights of talk-show series

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Jerry Seinfeld is still the master of his domain.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the celebrated comedian over Christian Charles, who directed the pilot episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and later sued Seinfeld for allegedly using the work without proper compensation.

Charles, according to the court documents, said he pitched the idea in 2002 before eventually collaborating with Seinfeld leading up to the show's premiere on Sony's Crackle in 2012. After the pilot was well-received, the plaintiff said he began working preparing subsequent shows when he and the former sitcom star began to disagree on payment.

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“Jerry Seinfeld is the sole creator of ‘Comedians in Cars.’"Orin Snyder, Seinfeld's attorney, said in a statement sent to FOX Business. "At every level, the courts have seen through this ridiculous attempt to capitalize on the success of the show.  Today’s ruling by the appellate court is another vindication against these opportunistic and phony claims.”

Seinfeld was upset that Charles wanted more than a directing fee instead of a being paid on a “work-for-hire” basis. A formal complaint from the plaintiff was not filed in federal court until 2018, according to The Hollywood Reporter. And that was too long to bring the claim, the court said.

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“The district court identified two events described in the Second Amended Complaint that would have put a reasonably diligent plaintiff on notice that his ownership claims were disputed,” the Thursday decision read. “First, in February 2012, Seinfeld rejected Charles’s request for backend compensation and made it clear that Charles’s involvement would be limited to a work-for-hire basis. Second, the show premiered in July 2012 without crediting Charles, at which point his ownership claim was publicly repudiated.”

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Either one of the developments was “enough to place Charles on notice that his ownership claim was disputed and therefore this action, filed six years later, was brought too late,” the document continued. The case was argued on April 29.

The court's decision comes the same week Seinfeld debuts “Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill” on Netflix, an hourlong comedy special that the streaming platform said, “reinforces his reputation as the precision-craftsman of standup comedy.”

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