Netflix and Goldin Auctions Win Copyright Infringement Case

Heating up the gavel in the courtroom, Judge Christine O’Hearn puts the final nail in the legal wrangling over copyright infringement in auction reality TV. She delivered a definitive victory to Netflix, Goldin Auctions, its founder-Emeritus Ken Goldin, and the producers of the reality television series “King of Collectibles,” and the gavel has come down hard on Gervase Peterson’s hopes of vindication.

Peterson, best remembered for stints on reality show “Survivor,” was the one who threw the gauntlet down in this intellectual property tug-of-war. His beef? An assertion that in 2019 he had been the brains behind a concept uncannily similar to the “King of Collectibles,” pitched to Ken Goldin. His brainchild, christened “The Goldin Boys,” was allegedly reincarnated as a show, produced by Wheelhouse Entertainment and later adopted by Netflix, all without Peterson’s knowing nod or, indeed, recompense.

At the epicenter of this storm in a teacup, was the perceived resemblance between the reality TV show that saw its sophomore season hit the screens recently, and Peterson’s original pitch. He was in talks with the defendants until mid-2020, but the lines of communication abruptly cut-off and simultaneously, a show bearing striking similarities to Peterson’s idea sprung in the production pipeline.

Unphased, the defense countered with their assertion. They proclaimed the reality show, chronicling the ebb and flow of business at Goldin Auctions and snapshots of Goldin’s personal life, was padded with generic threads that frankly, found no umbrella under the Copyright Act.

The scales of justice tilted in favor of this argument. Judge Christine O’Hearn of the New Jersey federal district court echoed their view, shedding light on the concept of scènes à faire—a legal tool that brushes off typical scenes or themes as integral to a genre and thus beyond the pale of copyright protection. The nitty-gritty of reality TV was cocooned in this safe haven, she reminded, including the humdrum of quotidian operations showcased in “King of Collectibles.”

Adding to her line of reasoning, Judge O’Hearn made it clear that the court often refuses to attach any copyright weightage to real-life subjects and elements routinely plucked from the blooming garden of reality TV. She signposted previous legal landmarks where this principle found favor in analogous cases. By shutting the book on Peterson’s case, the Judge underlined the quagmire that awaits anyone seeking the copyright of broad, and regularly exploited concepts often spawning TV reality shows.

Not only has “King of Collectibles” tackled the legal obstacle course with poise and emerged unscathed, but the show also bagged a nod from the big guns in the entertainment industry, clinching a recent Emmy nomination. Victory in court? Check. Industry recognition? Check. What more could Goldin Auctions and Netflix ask for in their quest for reality TV dominance?


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