A lawsuit alleging that the original concept for Stranger Things was lifted from some bloke’s feature film script has been dropped entirely mere days before it went to trial, giving some relief to the show’s creators and narrowly avoiding what could have been a cataclysmic legal precedent for Hollywood’s film and TV industries.
Just to catch you up, the series – and more specifically its creators Matt and Ross Duffer – were being sued by a man named Charlie Kessler, who alleged that the Duffer brothers lifted the entire concept from him after a chance encounter at a cocktail party in 2014.
Kessler’s original lawsuit asserted that he met the Duffer Brothers at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014, and pitched them a project he was working on entitled The Montauk Project. That feature film script was based on the real-life urban legends and conspiracy theories that claim the United States military conducted a series of secret tests at a base in Montauk, New York, that developed psychological warfare techniques and dabbled in experimentations regarding time travel.
Kessler claims that he gave the Duffers links to find more of his work, but was then stunned just over twelve months later to see Stranger Things being announced, which contained similar themes and inspiration to Kessler’s concept. Even going so far as to have originally been called Montauk.
Despite being ordered to trial, Kessler abruptly withdrew the suit yesterday, after being presented with documentation that showed the Duffers were working on the show as far back as 2010, four years before the alleged meeting with Kessler took place. They also deny the meeting took place to begin with. A statement issued by Kessler essentially admits his case was doomed to fail, and that he accepts the Duffers independently came up with a vaguely similar idea well before he did.
After hearing the deposition testimony this week of the legal expert I hired, it is now apparent to me that, whatever I may have believed in the past, my work had nothing to do with the creation of Stranger Things. Documents from 2010 and 2013 prove that the Duffers independently created their show. As a result, I have withdrawn my claim and I will be making no further comment on this matter.
The now-cancelled trial, which was due to begin on Tuesday, had huge potential ramifications should it have been ruled in Kessler’s favour.
It would have been the highest-profile idea theft lawsuit to have ever been put in front of a jury (most idea theft cases never make it that far), and should Kessler have been successful, it would have essentially discouraged or possibly eradicated verbal pitching outside of controlled legal environments, which almost completely closes the door on new filmmakers and screenwriters coming into the industry.
So in that regard, it’s all worked out for the best here.