Court Denies Blurt-Out Defense to Sony in Case Involving the Television Series “Timeless”

Court Denies Blurt-Out Defense to Sony in Case Involving the Television Series “Timeless”

March 2, 2017

by Jerry Glover

If you are a fan of the NBC television series “Timeless”, you’ll love this case.

Onza Partners SL sued Sony Pictures Entertainment and others alleging breach of an implied contract in connection with the “Timeless” series. Onza Partners SL v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.,, No. 16 CV 07169 (C.D. Cal. February 15, 2017). Onza is the copyright owner of a television show entitled “El Ministerio del Tiempo (“The Department of Time”) which has been broadcast in Spain since 2015. “Timeless” from Sony has aired since 2016. Both series are about three people, one female and two males, who are recruited by the government to travel through time and complete missions to protect the timeline.

Plaintiff began talking to Sony about licensing its series in 2015 which meant that Sony was aware of the content of the Onza Partners series. No agreement was reached but in August, 2015 an on-line news story appeared claiming Sony was producing a show called “Time,” later changed to “Timeless.”

Plaintiff claimed that Sony had violated an implied contract. Courts have recognized it is customary in the entertainment industry for story ideas to be pitched to production executives and if the story idea is used by a network or studio, the person pitching the idea gets paid. There’s no written contract; it’s implied. But there are several defenses to an allegation that an implied contract has been breached. One of those defenses is the “blurt-out” defense which Sony claimed here. In a very well-known implied contract case, Desny v. Wilder, 46y Cal. 2d 715 (1956), the California Supreme Court described the defense as follows:

The idea man who blurts out his idea without having first made his bargain has no one but himself to blame for the loss of his bargaining power. The law will not in any event, from demands stated subsequent to the unconditional disclosure of an abstract idea, imply a promise to pay for the idea, for its use or for its previous disclosure.

A good example of a situation where the blurt-out defense might be successful involves a person with a story idea blurting out the idea to a producer at a cocktail party without encouragement from the producer.

In the present case Onza did not blurt out anything. It was in discussions with Sony pitching the idea of a show based on its television series. Sony was well aware of the purpose of the discussion. The court ruled, therefore, that Onza had alleged enough for a plausible claim for breach of implied contract and allowed the case to proceed.

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