Stranger Things plagiarism row: Duffer Brothers to face trial for allegedly stealing idea behind Netflix show

Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, and Gaten Matarazzo in Stranger Things
The Duffer Brothers will face trial in the Stranger Things plagiarism case. Pic credit: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons license

The creators of Stranger Things are set to face a trial next month over allegations they stole the idea behind the popular Netflix series.

A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge denied an application by the Duffer brothers to get the plagiarism lawsuit brought against them by Charlie Kessler dismissed.

Kessler accuses the brothers — Matt and Ross — of stealing his original idea for the series.

Judge Michael Stern ruled that a court trial can proceed to determine whether the pair stole the idea for the popular show from Kessler.

According to Kessler’s lawsuit, the Duffer brothers breached an implied contract to “work together” by stealing the idea for their Netflix TV series Stranger Things from his feature film script with the working title The Montauk Project.

According to Deadline, the plot of Kessler’s short film Montauk (2012) shares significant elements with the plot of Stranger Things.

Montauk “revolves around a missing boy, a nearby military base conducting experiments on children and a monster from another dimension that looks like a toy,” Deadline reports.

But the Duffer brothers responded to Kessler’s lawsuit, saying they did not breach an implied contract with him because they never manifested “any intent to enter into a binding contract.”

The Duffer brothers argued that although they had seen Kessler’s script, his ideas were not novel. They insisted that they independently created Stranger Things.

Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, and Gaten Matarazzo in Stranger Things
The Stranger Things plagiarism case is going to trial. Pic credit: Netflix

“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 Duffer brothers’ attorney wrote, according to THR.

“That casual conversation — during which the Duffers supposedly said that they all ‘should work together’ and asked ‘what [Kessler] was working on’ — is the sole basis for the alleged implied contract at issue in this lawsuit and for Kessler’s meritless theory that the Duffers used his ideas to create Stranger Things.”

But in his ruling, Judge Michael Stern said there was no requirement under the relevant New York and California laws than an idea must be “novel” before anyone can bring a lawsuit alleging that someone else has stolen their idea.

In his decision, Stern wrote that although it was concluded in  Faris v. Enberg, 97 Cal.App.3rd 309 (1979) that no “implied in fact contract” was formed when the plaintiff shared his original idea with the defendant in view of establishing a business relationship in the future, “Triable issues of fact remain to be determined concerning what plaintiff [Kessler] said, what he meant to convey by his conversation and how the defendants [the Duffer brothers] responded before it can be definitively concluded whether or not an implied in fact contract was formed.”

“The present situation presents far different facts than those detailed in [the Faris v. Enberg case],” the judge continued. “The circumstances under which [Kessler] claims to have submitted his ideas to the defendants are not analogous.”

Judge Stern also concluded that the Duffer brothers would need to back up their claim that they have a longstanding interest in the type of urban legends and conspiracy theories on which Stranger Things is based and that they began working on their story since 2010.

“Without such admissible evidence, we are left with an issue of determining credibility that must be decided by the trier of fact,” the judge wrote. “Moreover, whether or not there is a similarity between the concepts to be discerned by comparing them is a sub-issue of independent creation that must be decided by the trier of fact.”

The trial is scheduled to start on May 6, according to Deadline.

Stranger Things Season 3 is set to be released on Netflix on July 4.

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