The resurrection of the classic kids’ series, Reading Rainbow, has gone from inspiring generosity to prompting litigation. Instead of being pleased that LeVar Burton continues to carry out his literacy-for-everyone mission, the New York public broadcaster that first brought the show to air is suing him over it. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Reading Rainbow owner WNED filed a broad lawsuit against Burton last week for “copyright infringement, conversion, cybersquatting, violations of the Lanham Act, breach of contract and interference with customer relations.”
The suit makes extensive demands, including administrative control over social media accounts related to Burton’s RRRKidz company, but it’s actually the second time the two parties have gone to court. Back in 2011, RRRKidz company obtained a license for use of Reading Rainbow’s intellectual property. The agreement that was reached between Burton and WNED six years ago gave him the ability to move forward with a digital distribution of RR, while the public broadcaster was allowed to keep making new episodes. Despite that agreement, WNED has been fighting it out with Burton ever since, calling it a “divide and conquer” tactic.
With Burton’s Reading Rainbow Kickstarter having been fully funded, and rumors of a Netflix revival, the plaintiff wants to stop Burton from using any of the related intellectual property, including the “But you don’t have to take my word for it” catchphrase. WNED is mostly up in arms over Burton’s new podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, which it believes ventures too far into RR territory. The complaint notes that media perception of the podcast is that it’s “Reading Rainbow for adults,” which is just too close to the original show for the station’s comfort. WNED also doesn’t think Burton’s done anything to distinguish his new project from the old—in a recent interview, the actor-advocate himself said he’s wanted to “address a Reading Rainbow for adults.” No dates have been set for court proceedings, but in the interim, WNED can be content with the knowledge that the lawsuit’s inadvertently promoting literacy by putting “cybersquatting” out into the world.
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