×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Stranger Things’ Lawsuit Dropped Ahead of Trial Date

Charlie Kessler has dropped his idea theft lawsuit against Matt and Ross Duffer on the eve of trial, acknowledging the brothers came up with the idea for the Netflix show “Stranger Things” on their own.

Kessler had alleged that the Duffer brothers stole his idea for the series after the trio got to talking at a reception for a 2014 screening of “Honeymoon” at the Tribeca Film Festival. Kessler said he pitched the brothers an idea for a project based on urban legends about a decommissioned military installation in Montauk, New York. He said he was stunned a year later when Netflix announced the Duffer brothers’ show, which contained similar themes and was originally titled “Montauk.”

The trial was set to begin on Tuesday, but in a statement on Sunday afternoon, Kessler acknowledged that the brothers have demonstrated that they conceived the idea independently. The brothers produced emails and Google documents showing that they were working on the concept as early as 2010. Kessler pared back his suit last week, dropping allegations that the brothers cribbed from his feature screenplay.

“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,'” he said in the statement. “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 As a result, I have withdrawn my claim and I will be making no further comment on this matter.”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 Duffer brothers maintained all along that they came up with the idea independently, and had no memory of even meeting Kessler at the fateful cocktail party.

Netflix was not a party to the suit, but issued a statement Sunday saying the company is pleased the case has been dropped.

“We are glad to be able to put this baseless lawsuit behind us,” a Netflix spokesperson said in the statement. “As we have said all along, ‘Stranger Things’ is a ground-breaking original creation by The Duffer Brothers. We are proud of this show and of our friends Matt and Ross, whose artistic vision gave life to ‘Stranger Things,’ and whose passion, imagination and relentless hard work alongside our talented cast and crew made it a wildly successful, award-winning series beloved by viewers around the world.”

In Kessler’s account of the 2014 cocktail reception, Matt Duffer said, “We should work together. What are you working on?” He said he told the brothers a short film he had made about a mysterious disappearance in Montauk, and said he was seeking to produce a feature. He told the brothers where to find more information about the project online. He never heard from them again, and assumed they had no interest.

The Duffer brothers showed that they, too, had been exploring the Montauk conspiracies for years, and had even planned to take a scouting trip to Montauk around the time of the film festival.

“This is not some deep cut conspiracy,” Matt Duffer testified in a deposition, saying he had first heard about it in high school. “If you know anything about urban legends, you know this. You know about the Montauk Project.”

The setting for the show was later changed to a fictional town in Indiana due to the difficulty of shooting at Montauk, and because there were several other works about the same conspiracies with a similar title.

Idea theft lawsuits are fairly common, but they are usually thrown out before they reach a jury. Judge Michael Stern, however, found Kessler’s claims sufficiently plausible to send the case to trial. Had Kessler’s suit prevailed, it could have had a chilling effect on Hollywood social gatherings.

“It would create a situation where any reputable director or producer should never go to cocktail parties,” argued Aaron Moss, a partner at Greenberg Glusker who specializes in intellectual property cases. “If the mere act of asking somebody ‘What are you working on?’ and saying ‘We ought to work together’ is going to give rise to an obligation to pay for whatever happens to come out of the person’s mouth, I think we’re all in trouble.”

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Barron HiltonBarron Hilton 1990

    Famed Hotelier Barron Hilton Dies at 91

    Barron Hilton, a famed hotelier who helped expand the Hilton Hotels empire and a founding owner of the Chargers NFL football team, has died, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation announced. He was 91. “Today the world of hospitality mourns for one of the greats. Barron Hilton was an incredible family man, business leader and philanthropist. [...]

  • Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel WME

    Endeavor Targets Sept. 27 for Stock Debut, IPO Video Tells Company's Origin Story

    After years of preparation, Endeavor is set to make its formal Wall Street debut on Sept. 27, when its stock will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Endeavor has targeted Sept. 26 for the final pricing of its shares. The stock will trade publicly the following day. Earlier this week, Endeavor said its [...]

  • Netflix - Apple TV

    Netflix Stock Drops After CEO Acknowledges 'Tough Competition' Coming From Disney, Apple

    Netflix shares fell as much as 7% Friday to a nine-month low, coming after CEO Reed Hastings commented that the November launches of Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus will introduce a “whole new world” of competition. Hastings, speaking at the Royal Television Society conference Friday in Cambridge, England, said, “While we’ve been competing with [...]

  • Charlie Rose Sexual Harassment

    Charlie Rose Sued for Sexual Harassment by Longtime Makeup Artist

    A makeup artist who worked for Charlie Rose for 22 years has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, accusing the former CBS and PBS host of years of unlawful behavior toward female employees. Gina Riggi alleges that Rose was verbally abusive with her and would often make derogatory comments about her weight. She also alleges that [...]

  • Rob Stringer

    Sony Music Chief Rob Stringer on Sustaining Growth and Recovering From the 'Dark Times'

    The Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference, now in its 28th year, gives top executives at major companies the opportunity to make their case to investors — and the Goldman analysts the opportunity to keep things on the up and up. While the analysts don’t necessarily grill the executives, they don’t lob softball questions either. That was [...]

  • Frank Grillo'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Matt Phelps Tapped as President of Joe Carnahan, Frank Grillo's Warparty

    Frank Grillo and Joe Carnahan’s Warparty productikon banner has appointed Matt Phelps president of the company. Phelps will head the Los Angeles office and be responsible for overseeing all film and television projects. “We searched long and hard to find the right fit for Warparty and felt that Matt embodied everything that we were looking [...]

  • Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent,

    Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent, Dies at 88

    Jack Gilardi, a longtime ICM Partners agent who represented such stars as Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, Jerry Lewis, Charlton Heston and Shirley MacLaine, died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 88. Gilardi was known for his gentlemanly style, love of the Los Angeles Dodgers and his skill at representing top actors. He [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content