NBC & Sony Want ‘Timeless’ Ripoff Lawsuit Made History

Dominic Patten
Deadline

“Time travel is a well-established genre in all forms of media,” Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Pictures Television and NBCUniversal said in a motion today to dismiss the Timeless copyright infringement and breach of implied contract lawsuit slapped on them back in September. “Moreover, in many examples of the genre, the generic story line involves characters whose time travel alters the course of history, often preventing bad things from happening,” the filing in federal court adds of why Onza Entertainment claims the NBC series was “ripped off” from Spanish drama El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Department of Time) should be considered a non-starter (read it here).

Also, despite the fact that plaintiff was actually in talks with Sony over a possible English-language version of their show, the defendants are rejecting Onza’s breach of contract claims with a somewhat novel but not untested approach. “Plaintiffs’ claim for breach of implied-in-fact contract must be dismissed on the ground that no contract exists to pay for the (alleged) use of unprotectible ‘ideas’ because Plaintiffs consensually revealed the ‘ideas’ in their Format and series by their public broadcasts of the series prior to any contact with any of the Defendants, i.e., the ‘blurt out’ defense,” reads the 24-page motion in the case, which seeks a jury trial.

Sony Pictures TV logo
Sony Pictures TV logo

Lawyers for Sony, NBCU and Timeless creators Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke have asked for a January 23 hearing before Judge Stephen Wilson on their motion. Starring Matt Lanter, Abigail Spencer and Malcolm Barrett, NBC’s Timeless premiered on October 3 to OK ratings. Earlier this month, the net gave the Sony TV and Universal TV show an order for three additional episodes to a total of 16 — far short of the standard Big 4 full-season outlay of 22.

Onza’s initial filing said that company principal Gonzalo Sagardia presented the Ministerio del Tiempo format at MIP-TV in April 2015. The complaint details that while at the confab, Sagardia sat down with Gersh partner and head of TV lit Roy Ashton about making a U.S. Department of Time series. In those get-togethers, the 19-page lawsuit claims, Sagardia gave Ashton a DVD of the Spanish show “on the understanding that (a) if Ashton liked the Original Series, he and Gersh would use their United States contacts to assist Onza in putting together a deal for Onza’s development and exhibition of an American Version, and (b) [the DVD] would be used for no other purposes whatsoever.” Making it seem even more closer to home, the filing says that “Ashton mentioned that the American television writers/producers Ben Edlund and [Kripke] … might be perfect as showrunners for Onza’s American Version.”

After discussions with Onza reps in summer 2015, Sony agreed to produce the show and gave terms including an 18-month option. But that all took a new twist in August of last year, when Sony announced it had picked up a project then called Time from Kripke and Ryan with a pilot production commitment. Noting a Deadline story on the Time project, the Onza suit spotlighted that both Kripke and Ryan were under overall deals with Sony.

“Obviously, it does not take a lot of time to put together a ‘new’ and creative product ripped off from someone else,” Onza’s lawsuit noted. “Oddly, at the moment of the August 26, 2015 publication of the Deadline Release, Sony abruptly and without any warning terminated all negotiations relative to Onza’s American Version.”

Ouch!

The Sony defendants, NBCU, Davis and Kripke and their own companies are represented by Louis Petrich and Edward Ruttenberg of L.A. firm Leopold, Petrich and Smith. Devin McRae and Michael Smarinsky of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae are handling matters for Onza.

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