Eight years after reviving Reading Rainbow, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s LeVar Burton is being sued for “hijacking the long-running PBS show.”
WNED of Buffalo, New York has filed the lawsuit, demanding that Burton’s company “hand over administrative access to various websites and social media accounts.” In addition, they don’t want Burton to use the Reading Rainbow catchphrase “But you don’t have to take my word for it,” on his LeVar Burton Reads podcast.
Burton’s RRKidz had a licensing deal with WNED in 2011, and RRKidz was permitted to “use intellectual property related to Reading Rainbow.“ WNED believed that RRKidz would “take over digital distribution of the series while the broadcaster would focus on making new episodes. Profits were to be split.”
When Burton launched his 2014 Kickstarter campaign to revive Reading Rainbow, and RRKidz and The Jim Henson Company began “secretly negotiating” with Netflix for a new Reading Rainbow series, that caught WNED‘s attention, who informed RRKidz that the licensing agreement had been breached.
The new lawsuit was filed after Burton launched his new podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, in June. “As evidenced by Mr. Burton’s conduct since he began ‘teasing’ the public about the return of Reading Rainbow years before his company acquired any rights to do so, Mr. Burton’s goal is to control and reap the benefits of Reading Rainbow‘s substantial goodwill — goodwill that unquestionably belongs to WNED,” said the complaint. “First, defendants tried to assert control over the brand through deception: secret negotiations with Netflix, false assertions of ownership of the RR Intellectual Property, and misleading efforts to persuade WNED‘s business associates to make Mr. Burton the host of any new series.
“Then, defendants tried brute force: the RRKidz Action, through which they tied up the RR Intellectual Property while waging a war of attrition intended to extract a settlement that would loosen restrictions of their ability to exploit the RR Intellectual Property. Now that WNED has called their bluff and is prepared to take the RRKidz Action to trial, defendants have resorted to theft and extortion. As the RRKidz Action moved closer to trial, RRKidz began working with Mr. Burton’s longtime friend, John Raymonds, to secretly encumber the RR Intellectual Property as collateral for $2.5 million in loans from Raymonds’ Capital.”
The complaint can be read here.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter