“Stranger Things” Plagiarism Lawsuit Heads to Trial

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

In spite of their insistence that they did not steal the idea for their hit series, Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer are headed for a trial.

On Wednesday, a judge with the Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed their attempt to stop a plagiarism lawsuit filed against them in 2018 by Charlie Kessler. Kessler claims that the brothers stole ideas for the show from his short film Montauk, which was released in 2012.

According to Kessler, he presented the concept to the brothers at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival during a party, and that they then used that concept to create the show Stranger Things. The Duffer brothers have denied the claim.

“Charlie Kessler asserts that he met the Duffers, then two young filmmakers whom Kessler never had heard of, and chatted with them for ten to fifteen minutes,” the defendants’ attorney wrote to The Hollywood Reporter. “That casual conversation – during which the Duffers supposedly said they all ‘should work together’ and asked ‘what [Kessler] was working on’ – is the sole basis for the alleged implied contract in this lawsuit and for Kessler’s meritless theory that the Duffers used his ideas to create Stranger Things.”


According to the IMDB, the plot of Montauk revolves around a group of people investigating a town that has been surrounded by conspiracy theories – from government projects to the supernatural. The film was created using files from the archives of the Suffolk County Police Department and explores some of the strange events that have happened in and around the town. The short film was released in 2011.

In Stranger Things, a group of teenagers investigates paranormal activity happening around their town and uncovers a mystery that involves government projects and supernatural forces. It was immediately a pop-culture hit, having won several Emmys. The series was released in 2016.

Both the movie short and the show claim the same inspiration – the 1980s work of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King.

As the lawsuit moves to a trial date, Kessler is seeking a deposition and documents from Netflix. For their part, the Duffer brothers are attempting to have portions of the trial sealed off, saying that “public disclosure threatens substantial harm” to their privacy and commercial efforts. They also believe that information from the trial could weaken Netflix’s position in future negotiations.

Kessler’s attorney, Michael Kernan issued a statement, saying, “Now that the Judge has ruled and denied their motion for summary judgment, we can now dispense with the nonsense promoted by the Duffers and Netflix that this lawsuit has no merit, and that they had ‘proof’ that they created the show. If the lawsuit had no merit, or if they actually had the ‘proof’ they created it, then their summary judgment would have won. They lost. These motions are very hard to fight and winning this Motion shows Mr. Kessler has a good case. We look forward to proving Mr. Kessler’s case at trial.”

That trial is scheduled for May 6, 2019.

Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor originally from Cadiz, Kentucky. Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.

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