Judge Refuses to Dismiss ‘Timeless’ Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

Judge Refuses to Dismiss 'Timeless' Copyright
Courtesy of NBC

A federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit claiming that NBC’s “Timeless” is a ripoff of a Spanish TV time travel series.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson, in a ruling issued on Wednesday, denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Sony and other defendants had asked the court to toss the case.

Onza Partners, producers of the Spanish series “El Ministerio del Tiempo,” contend that their storyline was stolen for “Timeless,” in which a trio travels through time to try to stop a criminal trying to alter the course of history.


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Wilson wrote that the issue of whether the Spanish TV series and “Timeless” are “substantially similar” is better left to the summary judgment phase of litigation. He wrote that “an examination of more than just the pilots is required” to make such a determination.

He also wrote that Onza’s “well pleaded facts state a plausible claim for an implied contract.”

The lawsuit claims “numerous similarities” between the two shows, including that the antagonist is a suspected double agent. It also points to the presence of a three person team of one woman and two men. In both, the woman has “an academic background (with unorthodox elements) and knowledge of historical accuracy helpful — or crucial — to carrying out the given missions.”

Onza claims that they began negotiating with Sony on a deal for a U.S. version of the series in July, 2015, and even exchanged deal proposals. But on Aug. 26, 2015, Deadline published a release that Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan were producing a TV pilot titled “Time,” later retitled “Timeless,” for NBC.

“Oddly, at the moment of the August 26, 2015 publication of the Deadline [r]elease, Sony abruptly and without any warning terminated all negotiations relative to Onza’s American version,” the Onza lawsuit claims.

The suit contends that its attorney, David Tenzer, contacted Sony attorneys, one of whom eventually responded that they didn’t “feel that our project violates your client’s rights.”

Onza is represented by Devin McRae and Michael Smarinsky of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae.

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  1. It’s clear after watching El Ministerio that Timeless ripped off huge chunks of it, much as I love Timeless. Too many similarities, even down to the games they play with names the viewers know but the characters in the historical past don’t. Virtually the same trio, yes, and the male lead in El Ministerio pines for a dead wife, just as in Timeless. The differences though are interesting…in El Ministerio the trio comes from different time periods, which makes it interesting. Portals to different time periods, instead of a time machine. I also have to say that I now LOVE El Ministerio probably even more than Timeless. Now I’m watching them both, learning a bit of Spanish history as well as American.

  2. Viki Duncan says:

    I love Timeless! It’s the best sci-fi show on television. What a ridiculous lawsuit. Shoot, The Mod Squad from the 1970s also had one woman and two men who fought villains/criminals. Big deal! ALL shows have formulas they use just like “Friends” with their six main characters and living across the hall from each other. Does that mean “The Big Bang Theory” should be sued too for having the same number of core characters and living across the hall from each other?!? What about daytime TV shows like “The View,” “The Talk (was that stolen from The View?)” and now there is a third one with only black and Hispanic women on it. I think it’s called “The Real.” Was that stolen from The View as well, or do they all have their own points of view (no pun intended)? Anyway, I don’t think the lawsuit has any legs whatsoever. It wasn’t the Producers of Timeless who met with the Spanish network, it was Sony, and all the while the Timeless Producers were coming up with THEIR OWN SHOW and had nothing to do with any of the dealings. Sometimes people have similar ideas at the same time. That isn’t a crime.

    • Viki–Watch the Ministry of Time. You’ll see clearly what this lawsuit is about.

    • Mike M says:

      It’s not at all a stupid lawsuit Viki. And seriously, you shouldn’t be wandering around typing stuff you make up as write and posting it publicly on major international entertainment new sites. The producers most certainly WERE involved, which is why they are named in the suit. Here are the actual facts – quite a long way from your made up ones.

      Onza Entertainment is suing Sony, NBCUniversal and Timeless creators Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke, claiming that they stole the idea for NBC’s Timeless. Onza claims the series was “ripped off” from its copyrighted format El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Department of Time).

      The 19-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Central California claims that Onza principal Gonzalo Sagardia took the format to MIP-TV in April 2015. It says that Onza execs met there with Gersh partner and head of TV lit Roy Ashton for help in getting an American version of The Department of Time off the ground. The suit says Sagardia gave Ashton a DVD of his 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. In particular, Ashton mentioned that the American television writers/producers Ben Edlund and Kripke (wow that’s just a coincidence) might be perfect as showrunners for Onza’s American Version.”.

      Onza then hired reps to negotiate for an American version of the format, the suit claims, and they had “several email communications” with Ashton. The suit claims the Gersh partner “specifically informed Sagardia that Ashton knew that Ben Edlund had discussed the Original Series with Kripke.” Talks went into late-July 2015, when Sony agreed to produce the show and gave terms including an 18-month option.

      Then suddenly in August 2015 Deadline report that NBC has bought a project, then titled Time, from Kripke and Ryan — both of whom were under overall deals with Sony — with a pilot production commitment. Sony and John Davis’ studio-based Davis Entertainment were set to produce.

      “According to the Deadline Release,” the suit says, “Kripke and Davis ‘reached out’ to Ryan, who was also working at Sony, and “within weeks crafted [stole] the storyline and characters for Time” (emphasis added). Obviously, it does not take a lot of time to put together a ‘new’ and creative product ripped off from someone else. 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.” Time was picked up to pilot in January and landed a series order as Timeless four months later.

      And once you digest all THAT, then you can add the raft of direct specific similarities. The suit in fact has VERY long legs.

    • mtt says:

      I not just the same formula, its everything: the female character is the one who knows history, the male character lost his wife and try to get it back, they always travel to past not future, multiple episodes have same plot, … Travelers, 12 Monkeys, Continuum are same formula diferent shows, Timeless? a bad remake of the spanish show.

  3. There is ONE episode left and the ratings are horrendous. It will almost certainly be Cancelled. if the lawsuit causes it to be cancelled, wonderful. The show had the benefit of The Voice as a lead in for the fall, and that didn’t help. Blindspot may actually finish ahead of it in ratings after 16 episodes, and Blindspot is in NBC’s WORST TIMESLOT!

    • Viki Duncan says:

      Not true on either accusation. Timeless has almost 5 million regular viewers and that’s being in the WORST time slot there is hidden on Monday nights at 10 p.m.. Those are respectable ratings for the day and time they were given. It’s just now finding more and more viewers. NBC needs to remember that Cheers had a better time slot and was 77 out of 100 it’s first year. It’s rating STUNK and look what happened with that show when they hung in there. Seinfeld was the same. It takes awhile for a show to find it’s audience.

  4. The basic concept is an old one in science fiction, predating both TV shows by decades.

    • V says:

      Yes, but they’re not suing over both of them being time travel shows. It’s the actions, the characters, certain devices and certain scenes that are straight up copied. It’s also fishy that Sony was willing to adapt the show for the US and when they saw MdT got a second season almost inmediately broke the deal – and just TWO WEEKS after they announced “Timeless” so… yeah.

      • Viki Duncan says:

        The characters are NOT the same. So what if the team is one woman and two men! The Mod Squad back in the 1970s was one woman and two men and they fought crime. Is this a remake of The Mod Squad with a 21st Century twist of time travel? And exactly which scenes are straight up copied??? It annoys me beyond belief when people like you never state any examples of your accusations. As far as timing goes, everything has to do with when the new tv season begins and getting projects lined up for it. I have no idea what “MdT” is, whether it’s the same network or a competitor, but just because NBC decided to go with Timeless when they did doesn’t mean ANYTHING except they have a business to run and decisions to make. That’s all.

  5. Heloneida says:

    I loved the Spanish series, and forget it after I saw the timeless, yes the Spanish are right they copied.

  6. AL Romero says:

    Funny, I started watching the Spanish series “El ministerio del tiempo” since the series began (two years ago, third season is coming up); and when “Timeless” came on all I could think of was “El ministerio”. The story lines are too similar: character dynamics (gal & guy’s attraction), unsure member of trio, trying to keep history of their respective country from changing, antagonist use to work for the company/agency that owns the technology, there are too many similarities.

    • Viki Duncan says:

      Every time travel show I’ve ever seen has similarities — they’re about TIME TRAVEL. They ALWAYS try to keep history from changing so they don’t do something stupid and change their own existence. And I’d like you to name how many shows you’ve seen where the main guy and main gal are NOT attracted to each other. I can’t name ANY. That’s part of every shows formula too. And yes, there is a formula in Hollywood these days. You do know FRIENDS had six main characters and the characters lived across the hall from each other, right? Does that mean The Big Bang Theory should be sued too because they had six main characters who also lived across the hall from each other? The actors on those two shows ADMIT they’re almost the same thing. Who cares? There are enough viewers to go around and not enough good choices on television these days. Name TWO episodes of Timeless that are exactly like the Spanish show El Ministerio del Tiempo. Just two. Did the Spanish version do a show about the American moon landing? What about WWII then? Did they do a show about Lincoln’s assassination? Or how about the Rat Pack? What about The Alamo then? Bonnie and Clyde? So, what it boils down to is that they’re both shows about time travel and have three main characters who are one woman and two men. That is not enough to warrant a law suit for heaven’s sake. The Mod Squad from the 1970s had one woman and two men (one of them also black) who fought crime. So?……

  7. Allen Wilkins says:

    Oddly, this was also the plot and characters of the first group of “Galactica 1980” episodes.

    • Viki Duncan says:

      Exactly, and I also mentioned The Mod Squad from the 1970s except this has a time travel element. The topics of each show are obviously completely different, Timeless dealing with American historical events. The similarity in the number of main characters and their gender is just reaching. It’s ridiculous that the suit was even filed except one commenter here did say the Spanish show is smaller in budget and needs all the money they can get. So is THAT the real reason for the lawsuit? A get-rich scheme?

    • sbmontero says:

      Wait, The plot and characters of the fist group of Galactica’80 was unsure member of trio, trying to keep history of their respective country from changing, antagonist use to work for the company/agency that owns the technology??? But that was in the Ugandan version, a pilot issued in Antarctica, or… It’s curiosity Ôo)-~

      • sbmontero says:

        No, the subject is that a great American channel appropriates an idea of a small Spanish producer making a series that is identical to the Spanish one, and when you steal something, however great you are, you must pay for it. That’s the point.

        Oh, and to clarify, I have seen the two series and are identical and, of course, neither of them look anything like Galactica’80, or The Mod Squad.

      • Allen Wilkins says:

        Not that I’m saying “Galactica 1980” influenced anyone. And when you look at the details, it sounds like “El Ministerio del Tiempo” may have a valid cause for complaint. I just find it amusing that the particular plot and character points mentioned in this article are 90% similar to those used by an infamously bad show (though to be fair, most of the badness came after they abandoned those plot points).

      • Allen Wilkins says:

        Well, two of them were from the Galactica, and they were trying to keep *Earth* history from being changed (by a renegade Galactican scientist), but otherwise, yeah, pretty much. They stopped the time-travel stuff pretty early, though.

    • Manu says:

      I’m spanish and I love “El Ministerio del Tiempo”, that said, I think the claims are based on the backstabbing (they were in negotiations for a month) and that the series is too close (Seriously? They could not make the team of 4 members? or maybe more changes apart from obviously treating the USA history).

      I am all for freedom on using ideas, but it is not fair that this freedom is enjoying only by big companies or people so small nobody care (that until you get famous and the big companies start suing you).

      El ministerio del tiempo is an small SF/Fantasy series, and they need all the money they can make to continue. They were on verge to disappear if they did not obtained the interest of Netflix. Netflix, that is for me the best service right now in europe, thanks to things like supporting these kind of series.

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