Montana photographer Sean R. Heavey has filed a lawsuit against Netflix, accusing the company of copyright infringement.

The lawsuit claims the company used a photo Heavey took of a supercell for the storms it created for "Stranger Things" and "How It Ends."

Heavey recognized his cloud in an episode of "Stranger Things." Then in Episode 3 of "Beyond Stranger Things," a concept-art photo appears to be built from his cloud photo. It's part of a discussion about the vision of the show.

And lately, at about the 42-minute mark of the new Netflix original movie "How It Ends," a supercell hovers about the characters. 

"Ever seen clouds like that before?"

"Hell, no." 

Heavey said he's seen a cloud like that before, and his lawsuit argues the company once again used his photo to design their cinematic storm.

Sean Heavey
Sean R. Heavey photographs a deer along the Missouri Breaks of Montana.
TRIBUNE PHOTO/KRISTEN INBODY

 In 2010, Heavey took a thunderstorm photo that he called "The Mothership." It's appeared in publications and online all over the world, even landing him a role in an Apple commercial, but it's been the subject of a continuous battle against copyright infringement.

The Netflix lawsuit emphasizes the work Heavey put into the photo. He tracked and followed the storm for hours, beginning as it crossed the Montana/Canada border heading south. He then combined four vertical panoramic photos into one image to show the full scale of the stormcell.

The photo is "the result of numerous sequences of experimentation by Sean with various framing, exposure, shutter speed, and movement options," according to the complaint.

Heavey registered the photo in November 2010 with the United States Copyright Office.

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Sean R. Heavey takes photos on a Lustre farm/ranch.
GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE/KRISTEN INBODY, KRISTEN INBODY

Netflix didn't respond to a request for comment, but in an earlier letter to Heavey, Netflix attorney Jarin Jackson wrote that the concept art is "not virtually identical," therefore not within the "thin copyright" the photo has, because the concept art includes a child looking over the fictional city of Hawkins.

"The only similarity that exists between the Artwork and Mr. Heavey’s photograph, The Mothership (the 'Photo'), is the use of similar cloud formations. Copyright law, however, does not protect objects as they appear in nature," Jackson wrote.

Netflix's use of the photo "has encouraged further, widespread copying of 'The Mothership' photograph," according to Heavey's complaint. "Despite being repeatedly made aware of the above-detailed information, as of date of this filing, Netflix has refused to remove the infringing material."

The lawsuit seeks to prevent Netflix from using the photo in any way without permission, as well as unspecified damages and legal fees.

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