Timeless Lawsuit

NBC's Timeless Sued by Creators of Spain's El Ministerio del Tiempo

Three weeks after reports first surfaced that the producers of Spain’s time-travel series El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time) were considering legal action against NBC’s Timeless, a lawsuit has been filed, claiming that the Peacock drama’s producers, Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan, in concert with Sony Pictures Television and NBC Universal, “conspired to steal” and ultimately “ripped off” their concept.

NBC’s Timeless follows a female history professor, a soldier and a scientist who are recruited by a mysterious government organization to travel through time to stop a villain from affecting past events. El Ministerio del Tiempo meanwhile chronicles (as the lawsuit cited by Deadline puts it) “the adventures of a three-person government team” — a female student, a Marine and a doctor — “traveling through time to thwart undesired changes to past events.”

Onza Entertainment, the producers of the Spanish format — which has been licensed to China, France, Italy, Portugal and other parts of Latin America — claim in the lawsuit that in April 2015 they met with and supplied a DVD copy of their series to a Gersh talent agency partner, who even suggested that Kripke and Bed Edlund would be a good fit to shepherd an American adaptation. Three months later, Sony proposed a deal to produce an American version of El Ministerio del Tiempo.

One month after that, it was announced that NBC was developing Time (as Timeless was originally titled) with Kripke and Ryan — at which time Sony, the suit claims, cut off its talks with Onza.

NBC and Sony do not comment on pending litigation.

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46 Comments
  1. Ray says:

    Good. Intellectual copyright needs to be protected. It seems there is nothing original about Timeless.

    • James says:

      Except we’ve got a lot of similar time-travel shows in the past, essentially they are all alike.

      Seven Days, Time Squad, Legends of Tomorrow, Doctor Who, so on and so forth.

      • Ok, that’s right. But the problem is that Timeles premise is too much similar to EMdT’s one. There are superficial similarities with all that series, but because all of them are about travels in time

        • James says:

          It will depend on how the show actually goes forward from the pilot onwards to see if it does mirror the Spanish series. Producers there only have the pilot to base it off for their lawsuit, so who knows if by Episode 1×02, the show goes to a different direction?

          • Paula says:

            I’m watching EMdT now, and yes: Timeless is a ripoff of it.

          • James says:

            Hmmm, if it is then every episode should be a page by page imitation. But only an episode has aired so far so there’s that.

            And not the first time that there’s a big round thingy that serves as a time machine. Jonathan LaPaglia had one in “Seven Days”.

      • Be careful with Doctor Who – it is 50 years old show :p

    • Frederick says:

      Timeless, the time travel TV series, both the American and the Spanish versions have been plagiarised from my book ‘Alternatives’ published in 2014. The characters and the storyline is identical. I would very much like to contact the supposed writers so as to settle peacefully what amounts to copyright theft and plagiarism.

  2. Kevin K says:

    Don’t know if the lawsuit is going to hurt Timeless nor the network.

  3. Wordsmith says:

    I imagine this will be tricky to prove in court, but it certainly appears pretty damning at first glance.

    • DL says:

      The difficulty is that you can’t copyright a concept. Unless Onza can provide a script or other written materials that Sony lifted word-for-word in its own version, there’s likely very little that can actually be proven.

  4. Eric says:

    It’s not a new concept. Look at 7 days or time tunnel. Heck take out the time travel part and it’s kinda like sliders.
    I hope they get nothing from this.

  5. I think the Spanish guys will get a lesson on just how many time travel shows there have been in America over the past 30 years. I have seen the first three episodes of timeless and it borrows heavily from Quantum Leap, Librarians and Warehouse 13 and several movies as well

    • Monica says:

      it’s not about time travel per se. Of course every time travel film/show is reminiscent of a previous one. But here, they were in talks to get the license, basically shared scripts and they even started planning on how to develop the 3 main characters for the American audience.

      it is not a coincidence that in both versions one of the 2 guys is a widower and wants to save his wife.

      It’s not a coincidence that in one version the woman is a history professor and the Spanish woman is a know it all in History, advising the other members all the time of what is hapenning.

  6. Anne says:

    Well that sounds nebulous.
    .
    Going to track down the original Spanish version of the show though.

  7. KLS says:

    I think it’s Ben Edlund, not Bed.

  8. Luis says:

    I’m a spaniard and have watched the two seasons (a third one is shooting right now) of “El ministerio del tiempo”. I agree, time travel shows are a dime a dozen but… the coincidences are striking: goverment sponsored team check, a doctor/scientist check, a soldier check, a history professor/scholar check. The first episode was aired in 02/24/2015. I think they have a strong case if they can prove the meetings with Sony.

    • Joe says:

      Even if Sony took the concept that doesn’t mean the spanish producers have a case against them. Concepts cannot be copyrighted, only specific characters, stories etc.
      “A government sponsored team”, “a soldier” etc. are generic ideas, we’d have to know the specific backstories and the personalities of the characters etc.

      “A female student” and “A female history professor” already implies that the characters are different even without knowing more about them, they are at different points in their lifes and careers, one is used to have some degree of authority in her class, the other is simply in the class. Their interactions with the other team members will presumably be different because of that which would alter the team dynamics.

      • Luis says:

        Turn the tables. If we in Spain did something like that we will have the full force of Sony’s lawyers suing everyone from the king downwards. Even if they have the slightest suspicion. Ethically you could be right but if the meetings existed and they received the scripts… aesthetically it looks fishy.

        • DL says:

          Unfortunately just because the optics are bad doesn’t mean there’s any legal malfeasance. While it might be distasteful, the reality is that production companies and networks lift concepts all the time. The only thing that can be protected under the law is the execution, the product itself.
          .
          As a professional author and screenwriter myself, I’ll tell you the reality: Onza’s job was to convince NBC beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the man they wanted to work with on this show, based on his pitch, his script, any other materials he may have provided, as well as his attitude. We don’t know why, but NBC clearly didn’t want to work with Onza, because if they concurred with his vision and found him amicable, they likely would have hired him either as showrunner or at least as a writer/producer.
          .
          When a writer gets that big meeting, his or her job is to be immaculately prepared, engaging, and easy to work with, but more than that they provide a vision that both seems salable and gets the studio execs excited on a creative level, and they must then convince those execs that no one else can possibly execute that vision the way that writer can. Because if those execs like the concept, but they don’t believe in that writer’s ability to execute, they will absolutely turn around and do exactly what they did in this situation. We have to infer that Onza didn’t succeed in winning their confidence.

          • kinai says:

            And is that right? Somebody could think that they didn’t believe in paying for an idea when you can ripoff it for free.

          • Jake says:

            “And is that right?”
            In this case, it’s not that original an idea – as others in prior posts have mentioned, it sounds like a half-dozen other US shows.

      • Alan says:

        It’s still extremely fishy that, for instance, one of the main characters is a soldier who’s obsessed with his dead wife and encounters her in the past and tries to save her by altering the timeline. On both shows.

        It seems that the original creator met with executives in the US and they agreed to develop the show, but then cut the writer out of the process at the last minute. Whether they get away with it or not (and personally I hope they don’t), I think that’s morally wrong.

        Just because the system is set up to make it easy for those with power and money to steal from others, doesn’t make it right. It’s also disgusting that Eric Kripke will willingly “pay homage” to rich and famous American writers (like Stephen King) when he draws from their ideas for his work, but is going around in interviews talking like he created “Timeless” from scratch. I hope he gets what’s coming to him.

  9. Reavaria says:

    Well good to know up front before I get invested in a show just for a legal problem to take it away. Looks like I’m not watching this one.

    • Kevin K says:

      I know you’re not looking forward to watch Timeless before the premiere on Monday but are you predicting that the series will get canceled. Don’t care what I think if people are going to start to agree or disagree about Timeless. No complaining

  10. Taylor says:

    #ROGELIODELAVEGA

  11. Tom says:

    Hmm … maybe the creators/producers of The Twilight Zone, The Time Tunnel, Star Trek, Legends of Tomorrow, et al should get together and sue “El Ministerio del Tiempo” for ripping *them* off.

  12. I’m glad that my guys from El Ministerio del Tiempo are putting up a fight. The moment I heard the synopsis of Timeless I knew there was something fishy.
    It’s not only about how similar are the descriptions of the characters, but also the fact that in both series they work for a secret branch of the goverment and their mission is to make sure that history doesn’t change. In both tv shows one of the male characters is traumatized by the death of his wife. Also there is a bad guy (woman in the spanish show) who tries to change history for his/her own benefit and who seems to know about the future of the main characters.
    So in not only because both shows are about time travel, but the details of the plot and how Sony cut off the negotiations right before announcing Timeless, it all looks pretty suspicious to me.

    • Luis says:

      Exactly. Too many coincidences for my taste.

    • clarencebreezebrown says:

      In Timeless they work for a private company not the government, the government was only involve when the terrorist forced the private sector to reach out to the government. Those are pretty general ideas and concepts, a soldier who wants to get his wife back is in like 85% of action movies and shows. This suit should be thrown out.

  13. dude says:

    Not the first time something like this has happened. New Girl was ripped off from another pilot submitted to FOX, down to many of the characters sharing the same names.

  14. dman6015 says:

    Everyone, including Onza, knows there have been a plethora of time travel shows. This isn’t about the time travel concept alone. Their complaint revolves around the make-up of the show’s characters and plot line being extremely similar to theirs:

    “NBC’s Timeless follows a female history professor, a soldier and a scientist who are recruited by a mysterious government organization to travel through time to stop a villain from affecting past events.

    El Ministerio del Tiempo meanwhile chronicles (as the lawsuit cited by Deadline puts it) “the adventures of a three-person government team” — a female student, a Marine and a doctor — “traveling through time to thwart undesired changes to past events.”

    So, where does a judge draw the line? If I tried to produce a show with a time traveler (let’s call him ‘The Professor’) and his female companion, who seamlessly travel through time and space in their “smaller on the outside” vehicle (he calls it ‘The R.O.C.K.E.T.’), you can bet I’d hear from The BBC.

  15. Sarah says:

    Good luck with that. Ideas are not copyrighted. If they were, we wouldn’t have 90% of the entertainment out there that we do. Just look at “A Bug’s Life” and “Antz” which were released around the time, both ripped off of a Fable, and came about only after someone working on “A Bug’s Life” left Pixar and moved to another studio and came up with the idea for “Antz.”

    NBC/Sony is either going to issue this other party a (small) check to shut them up and go away or the lawsuit is going to get dropped.

    • Xavier says:

      Don’t get things wrong with “A Bug’s Life”. Watch it carefully, it’s not a ripoff of a fable, but of The Seven Samurais of Kurosawa. Nothing in common with Antz.

  16. Offler says:

    Seems some people want to solve the question by just focusing on time travelling. No words about previous negotiations, or about plot and characters coincidences,
    Looks like the sports blindness when you just see the opponents penalties but not the ones coming from your own team. If not US people, why mind?

    They obviously didn’t play fair and obviously ripped off to avoid paying for rights. Decissions must be taken in US courts, but I just would like to warn that not recognizing an obvious copy could open the doors for US productions to be cloned in other countries with no chance for claim for rights. Of course those defending now Timeless will then claim justice for the US tv shows because “not exactly the same situation”, but with such situation is not going to be easy to defend US interests.

  17. The Watcher. says:

    Oh no… It’s like Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine all over again…

    Example:
    Babylon 5 = Deep Space Nine
    Jumpgate = Wormhole
    Shadows from the Rim = Dominion from the Gamma Quadrant
    Centauri = Cardassians
    Narn = Bajorans
    Sinclair/Sheridan = Sisko
    The One = The Emissary

  18. Pe says:

    NBC canceled Star Trek and now they rip off Doctor Who.. A failure network.. Timelessness will be gone in 2 months.. Meanwhile the good Dr. Enters season #52.. Ha ha..

  19. Ines says:

    I love this kind of stories and was watching Timeless.
    But a Portuguese TV chain just anounced “Ministerio do Tempo”, based on the Spanish version of “El Ministerio del Tiempo”. I just got so excited, because I can relate much more to Portuguese and Spanish History. And it is a million times more interesting, rich and longer than American History…
    So I am watching the Spanish Version right now, and it is so good; Timeless just got boring. Bye bye Timeless.

  20. Frederick says:

    Timeless, the time travel TV series, both the American and the Spanish versions have been plagiarised from my book ‘Alternatives’ published in 2014. The characters and the storylines are identical. I would very much like to contact the supposed writers so as to settle peacefully what amounts to copyright theft and plagiarism.

  21. Agent X says:

    After having viewed all of each series’ episodes, I can say that the two series are only similar in the most obvious ways, which is that the main time traveling team followed is comprised of two men (one is a soldier) and a woman who knows a lot about history, and that they are attempting to keep history from being changed.

    Identify which series I am describing:

    1) A man whose family was murdered by a powerful shadow organization steals a private company’s developed time machine and takes it and its pilot in order to go back in time to change history to dismantle the organization in the past in order to get his family back. The government steps in and sends a team to follow in the only other time machine to prevent changes to history and to stop the man. The following team discovers that the shadow organization has infiltrated the government and must decide on their own how to proceed, trying both to protect the timeline, while also trying to protect themselves and those that they love from danger, while dealing with the effects of changes that have been made in the past. There are only two time travel machines, and each must have a highly-trained pilot, without whom the machine cannot be controlled.

    2) The government has a secret department that controls a facility where any number of people are able to come and go through tunnels in time that extend throughout their own country’s history. Anyone is able to come and go. They have many teams of agents whose regular day-to-day, 9-to-5 type job it is to fix changes in history, either by accident or design. These teams are comprised of people from the past and some from the present. A competing time travel technology allows a company to send time tourists as well as art and culture thieves in time, although that technology is eventually fatal. Other time tunnels exist outside of the government facility and people accidentally come across them.

    I’m sure that it is clear and distinct which is which.