News broke on Tuesday that the Stranger Things creators are being sued over copycat claims. TMZ was the first to report that a lawsuit had been filed, alleging Matt and Ross Duffer copied the premise of the hit Netflix show from a writer, producer, and director named Charlie Kessler. Now, the Duffer Brothers are responding to the rip-off allegations through their attorney Alex Kohner. In a statement released to Bustle on Wednesday, Kohner said:
"Mr. Kessler’s claim is completely meritless. He had no connection to the creation or development of ‘Stranger Things.’ The Duffer Brothers have neither seen Mr. Kessler’s short film nor discussed any project with him. This is just an attempt to profit from other people’s creativity and hard work."
Bustle reached out to Netflix for comment when the lawsuit was announced and again on Wednesday, but did not receive an immediate response.
Deadline obtained a copy of Kessler's lawsuit, which claims that Stranger Things' premise was stolen from his 2012 short filmed called Montauk. The 39-page legal document cites alleged "misappropriation, unauthorized use and exploitation of [Kessler's] protected work, ideas, and concepts for an innovative short film entitled Montauk, and feature film script entitled The Montauk Project." Kessler's lawsuit also claims he met the brothers in 2014 at the Tribeca Film Festival and presented his idea to them.
While the Duffers' statement mentions they have "neither seen Mr. Kessler’s short film nor discussed any project with him," Deadline pointed out that when Stranger Things was first greenlit in 2015, the working title was Montauk. A circulating Netflix press release from that year also confirms the original title. (Bustle reached out to Netflix about this, but did not receive an immediate response.) Per Deadline, this was the logline of the series at the time it was first announced:
“Described as a love letter to the ’80s classics that captivated a generation, the series is set in 1980 Montauk, Long Island, where a young boy vanishes into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into an extraordinary mystery involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl.”
And according to IMDb, here is the synopsis for Kessler's short film, Montauk:
"For years, conspiracy theories have surrounded the Montauk area - from government projects to something deeper and more supernatural. Now, using files unearthed from the archives of the Suffolk County Police department, bear witness to the latest - and most shocking - incident in the history of the area."
Given the Duffer Brothers' denial through their attorney, it's unclear whether the initial name and location similarities are purely a coincidence. (As fans know, Stranger Things takes place in the fictional Hawkins, Indiana, not Montauk, so that is another change from the show's original logline.)
In his lawsuit, Kessler is demanding a jury trial and seeking restitution for "general damages," "special damages," and "lost profits." He is also asking for the Duffers to "destroy all materials of every nature and kind in their possession, custody or control that are based on [his] Concepts." Essentially, he's claiming that the Duffers took his ideas without permission or compensation.
At the time of publishing, it has not been announced how, or if, the lawsuit will impact Stranger Things Season 3. Back in February, it was revealed that the series would be returning for eight episodes, and TVLine had reported that production was set to start later this month in mid-April. There were also rumors around that time that the Duffer Brothers were leaving Stranger Things after Season 3, but Netflix quickly shot down the speculation with a tweet about Eggos.
Considering these new copycat claims, will Stranger Things now actually be ending sooner than expected? Only time will tell. But for now, the Duffer Brothers are standing by their show and denying the allegations.