Copyright Case Against Netflix and Goldin Auctions Dismissed

In a courtroom twist as dramatic as any reality TV plot, a copyright infringement case against content colossus Netflix, sports memorabilia powerhouse Goldin Auctions, and the producers of its reality series “King of Collectibles” has been dismissed by a federal judge. The suit, filed by none other than “Survivor” alum Gervase Peterson, alleged that without his consent, his 2019 proposed concept was transformed into the now-popular Netflix series.

The heart of the case revolved around one simple question: was Peterson’s pitch, ambitiously titled “The Goldin Boys”, the blueprint for the “King of Collectibles”? Starring the day-to-day operations of Goldin Auctions and a peek into the life of its founder Ken Goldin, the series recently crowned its second successful season on Netflix. It was right around mid-2020, the same time that Peterson’s emails to Goldin fell into the cyber abyss, that his pitch’s doppelganger sprung into production.

Despite the compelling chronology, the defense rose in a solid front, arguing that the show was based on generic, unprotectable ideas. The plaintiff’s claims, they countered, walked the blurry line of the Copyright Act.

Supporting their contention was Judge Christine O’Hearn of the New Jersey federal district court. She took it one step further and brought to light the legal doctrine scènes à faire, which, in French fashion, beautifully denotes elements typical to a genre that cannot be copyrighted. Every dueling chef, tantrum-throwing diva, and in this case, auction house operation, falls under this category.

In her ruling, Judge O’Hearn explained that real-life subjects and structural conventions frequently encountered in reality television are not copyrightable. She drew upon a rich archive of past cases that were similar in nature, underlining the almost Herculean challenge of attempting to copyright broad, universal concepts used in reality programming.

“King of Collectibles”, however, doesn’t just get to bask in the victory of a bullet dodged. The show has managed to tick off a milestone and also carve a niche for itself in the highly competitive world of entertainment. Its role as a reality series that provides insight into the high-stakes world of sports collectibles has recently garnered accolades, with the series securing an Emmy nomination.

With the federal judge’s gavel firmly cementing this ruling, it appears that the grit and guts familiar to fans of “King of Collectibles” is not just exclusive to the show but extends all the way to the courtroom as well. One thing’s for sure, the announcement of the verdict makes it clear that the realm of reality television extends beyond the flat screen and sometimes involves real-life legal dramas.


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