Photographer Sues Netflix for Using His Storm Photo for ‘Stranger Things’

A Montana photographer has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Netflix, accusing the media juggernaut of using one of his storm photos without permission for the hit sci-fi show Stranger Things.

We first covered photographer Sean R. Heavey’s complaint against Netflix back in May 2018 after he discovered a portion of his photo being used in concept art seen in the behind-the-scenes special Beyond Stranger Things.

The cloud had apparently been extracted from one of Heavey’s 2010 photos, titled “The Mothership”:

Comparing the two images reveals the identical features of both clouds:

In his complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Great Falls, Heavey states that the photo was made with great effort: he hunted the storm for hours across a great distance. The photo itself was made by shooting four photos in portrait orientation and then stitching them together into the supercell panorama.

Heavey registered the copyright for the photo with the United States Copyright Office in late 2010.

The photographer also says that he subsequently found additional uses of his photo in the TV show How It Ends. Screenshots from How It Ends are included in one of the filing’s exhibits:

Heavey says that Netflix continues to claim that he has no case.

“The only similarity that exists between the Artwork and Mr. Heavey’s photograph, The Mothership, is the use of similar cloud formations,” Netflix attorney Jarin Jackson wrote in a letter to the photographer, according to the Great Falls Tribune. “Copyright law, however, does not protect objects as they appear in nature.”

Netflix believes it was within its rights to use the photo because the concept art is not “not virtually identical” to Heavey’s photo.

After failing to work things out directly with the company, Neavey is now turning to the legal system.

“Netflix’s appropriation of ‘The Mothership’ photograph has encouraged further, widespread copying of ‘The Mothership’ photograph,” Heavey’s complaint states. “Despite being repeatedly made aware of the above-detailed information, as of date of this filing, Netflix has refused to remove the infringing material.”

Here’s a copy of the lawsuit:

In our original coverage of this dispute, over 65% of 21,000+ respondents in our poll believed that Heavey deserved to be paid by Netflix for the usage of his photo.

Heavey’s lawsuit seeks to prevent Netflix from further using “The Mothership” without permission. The photographer is also seeking an unspecified amount in damages and legal fees.

Netflix was also accused by a photographer of stealing a photo of a VHS tape for the Collector’s Edition box set cover art of Stranger Things. In that case, however, Netflix agreed to settle with the photographer by paying a licensing fee.