“Timeless” Copyright Infringement Suit Against Sony Likely to Proceed to Trial

Onza Entertainment, creator of Spanish language TV show, “El Ministerio del Tiempo” (The Department of Time) claims that NBC Universal and Sony "ripped off" "Timeless" from its TV series, while it was in negotiations to have the show adapted to an American format.
April 2, 2017

 

It’s no secret that many of our favorite and most popular TV shows, from “Ugly Betty” to “Jane the Virgin” were inspired by, and in some cases directly adopted from, popular Spanish language TV shows.[1] In most cases, such adaptations result form extensive, and in the end successful negotiations between the original show’s creators and an American production company eager to transition the show to American TV.[2]

However, the case has not been so for NBC’s new show “Timeless,” a time travel series that follows an ad hoc trio as they try to prevent catastrophic events from happening in the past.[3] On September 27, 2016, Onza Entertainment, a Spanish digital media company, filed a lawsuit against Sony, NBC Universal, and “Timeless” creators Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke in a copyright infringement lawsuit.[4] Onza claims that NBC completely “ripped off” “Timeless” from its Spanish language show, “El Ministerio del Tiempo” (The Department of Time), while it was actually in negotiations with Sony to have the show converted to an American format.[5]

In its complaint, Onza alleges that in the midst of its ongoing negotiations with Sony, the latter suddenly terminated all negotiations, contemporaneously with a Deadline.com release of a story about Eric Kripke and Sean Ryan producing a TV show called “Time” (now “Timeless”) in a deal with Sony.[6] The defendants swiftly responded with a motion to dismiss, stating that as a matter of law the pilot episode of “Timeless” “is not substantially similar to any protected expression in the initial episode of Plaintiff’s series” and only happens to have similar elements inherent to the genre. [7]

On February 15, 2017, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson, reviewed and denied the motion to dismiss the case.[8] In reviewing the motion, the court seldom deviated from established precedent, pointing out that it is not common to dismiss a copyright infringement claim that is based on substantial similarity at the motion to dismiss stage.[9] The court went on to discuss the substantial similarity analysis by stating that although it does not need to consider the entire work at issue before dismissing, it will not be the first court to dismiss a case for a lack of substantial similarity without first reviewing the entire work at issue.[10]

Although we have to wait and see what happens as the case ultimately proceeds to a jury trial, it is interesting to see that the judge is sticking to traditional standards and expressly deviating from a risky analysis.[11]

 


[1] See Manuel Betancourt, From China to Poland: 10 Remakes of Colombia’s ‘Yo Soy Betty, la Fea,’ Remezcla, (May 27, 2016, 1:58 PM), http://remezcla.com/lists/film/10-international-remakes-of-colombias-yo-soy-betty-la-fea-ugly-betty/.

[2] See id.

[3] Ted Johnson, Judge Refuses to Dismiss ‘Timeless’ Copyright Infringement Lawsuit, Variety, (Feb. 15, 2017, 5:48 PM), http://variety.com/2017/tv/news/timeless-copyright-infringement-nbc-1201989768/.

[4] Erik Pedersen, ‘Timeless’ Creators Shawn Ryan & Eric Kripke Sued Over “Ripped Off” Format, Deadline, (Sept. 27, 2016, 5:49 PM), http://deadline.com/2016/09/timeless-lawsuitshawn-ryan-sony-nbcu-sued-over-claim-that-timeless-idea-was-stolen-1201827221/.

[5] Id.

[6] Complaint ¶¶ 12-13, No. 2:16-cv-7269, (Sept. 27, 2016).

[7] Onza Partners SL v. Sony Pictures Entm’t Inc. et al., No. CV 16-07269-SVW-FFM, at 2 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 15, 2017).

[8] Id. at 6.

[9] Id. at 4.

[10] Id.

[11] See id. at 4.