‘Stranger Things’ creators and Chapman alumni headed to court for alleged plagiarism

stranger things
Matt and Ross Duffer, the Chapman alumni behind hit Netflix show “Stranger Things,” are headed to court after being accused of plagiarizing the show’s concept by filmmaker Charlie Kessler. Panther Archives

Matt and Ross Duffer, the creators of Emmy award-winning Netflix show “Stranger Things” are scheduled to appear in court for a jury trial May 6 in Los Angeles. The pair are among the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts’ most famous alumni and are scheduled to speak at this year’s Convocation keynote.

The pair are accused of plagiarizing the idea for “Stranger Things” from filmmaker Charlie Kessler in 2014, though the 2007 alumni claim to have come up with the show’s premise in 2010, according to court documents obtained by The Panther.

In a document filed April 17, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Stern wrote that the court is “left with an issue of determining credibility” and deemed a trial necessary, citing the fact that there is little evidence verifying the originality of the brothers’ idea.

The initial complaint was filed by Kessler’s representatives April 2018. It has been followed by a series of motions and requests from both parties throughout the year.

Chapman’s president, Daniele Struppa, wrote in an April 18 email to The Panther that he was not aware of the impending trial and could not give any information.

“As far as I am concerned, the Duffer Brothers (sic) are innocent until we see evidence to the contrary,” Struppa wrote.

Representatives from the Creative Artists Agency, the company that represents the Duffer brothers, did not immediately respond to The Panther’s request for comment.

In April 2018, Kessler filed a lawsuit against the pair, alleging that the Dodge alumni “misappropriated, used and exploited” the idea that turned into “Stranger Things” after he and the brothers had a conversation at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

“It’s not uncommon for a hit series or movie to draw these types of claims. That’s not to say whether or not this particular claim is legitimate – I don’t know how the facts will prove out,” Judd Funk, a Chapman entertainment law professor, told The Panther.

Funk said the lawsuit proceedings so far are “pretty standard” in similar lawsuits.

“Although a trial date has been set, it’s quite possible that the case will settle prior to the actual trial,” he said.

“Stranger Things” – which premiered on Netflix in July 2016 – has won six Primetime Emmy awards, with its third season set to premiere On Netflix July 4. Chapman has lauded the Duffer brothers since the creation of the series, awarding the pair the Alumni Achievement Award in 2017 at the annual “Chapman Celebrates” fundraising event.

The brothers hold that their creation was independent and “occurred prior to (Kessler’s) alleged disclosure of his idea to them,” according to an April 17 judgement.

Funk said that “the primary argument (the Duffer brothers’ legal team) is seeking to prove is that their series is the product of ‘independent creation’” as opposed to an idea Kessler pitched to them.

“The Duffer brothers are saying ‘We can establish independent creation’ and the plaintiff is saying ‘No, you can’t.’ And the judge is saying OK, we’re going to have to find out,’” Funk said.

This is a developing story. Follow The Panther as we continue reporting.