Time could march on in the battle over the TV series Timeless, even though a federal judge today rejected a move by Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Pictures Television, NBCUniversal, Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke to toss out a lawsuit over the time-travel show.
“The court denies this motion,” Judge Steven Wilson of the U.S. District Court said Wednesday, cleaning the defendants’ clocks a bit. On one level, it’s a win for plaintiff Onza Entertainment, which claimed in its initial suit in September against the media giants and the showrunners before the NBC series even debuted that it was “ripped off” from their Spanish drama El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Department of Time) – which Onza was in well into talks with Sony over a possible English-language version of their show. A fact that undoubtedly is why unlike many copyright case, Onza made it past the motion to dismiss that the defendants filed on November 23.
However, while the defendants have lost the battle, the war still rages on as Wilson also gave the Sony units, the Comcast-owned NBCU and the EPs a chance to get things started again on the matter of substantial similarity. “The Court feels this issue is better suited for summary judgment so that Plaintiff has a chance to focus this Court’s inquiry to the protected expression in The Department of Time and the alleged infringing expression in Timeless,” the LA-based federal judge added in his ruling (read it here).
A move to summary judgment, if the defendants roll that dice, is a much higher standard than the motion to dismiss, which works on the assumed basis that Onza’s allegations are factually true. A standard that potentially could trip up both sides depending on how the defendants play it.
Sony had no comment on today’s ruling, and NBCU did not respond to request for comment. The initial suit from Onza directly cites an August 2015 Deadline report that NBC had got onboard with a pilot production commitment for the project then titled Time from Kripke and Ryan, both of whom were under overall deals with Sony. John Davis’ studio-based Davis Entertainment and Sony were set to produce – which they did and are for the October 4-premiering and era-jumping Timeless, starring Matt Lanter, Abigail Spencer and Malcolm Barrett.
As it is, the defendants perhaps were tripped up at this most recent legal round by trying to be a bit too clever and convoluted in their choice of legal precedent to strike down the claim of implied contract that Onza has asserted.
“Plaintiff in this case, unlike Quirk, alleges it was in contractual negotiations with Defendants specifically, which proceeded to such a point that a licensing offer was made by Defendants,” Wilson points out over the defendants’ use of a lawsuit by author Joe Quirk over the film Premium Rush. Quirk was ultimately unsuccessful in his attempts to claim that Sony specifically lifted his idea for their 2012 Joe Gordon-Levitt bike messenger pic because the judge in that case said the mass publication of his book blurted out the idea of said bike messenger story. “Plaintiff rejected this offer but Defendants, according to the well-pleaded facts of the complaint which the Court accepts as true, took Plaintiff’s idea anyway without paying compensation. “
“Thus, if Defendants made Timeless without any communication with Plaintiff it may be said that Plaintiff ‘blurted out’ their idea and therefore are only protected by copyright,” the judge went on to say, giving the NBCU and Sony legal strategy a further kick. “Here, however, Plaintiff came to Defendants with the specific idea to make an American recreation of the show, and began bargaining a contract for that idea,” he reiterated in the minutes released today. “Plaintiff also suggested that Ben Edlund and Eric Kripke specifically would be well-suited as showrunner.”
“These well-pleaded facts state a plausible claim for an implied contract.”
The Sony defendants, NBCU, Kripke, Ryan, Davis and their own companies are represented by Louis Petrich and Edward Ruttenberg of L.A. firm Leopold, Petrich and Smith. Onza is repped by Devin McRae and Michael Smarinsky of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae in the matter.