Actor LeVar Burton is known for quite a few different projects, but anyone who grew up with an appreciation for PBS probably knew him first as the face and voice of the beloved children's show Reading Rainbow. Burton has never lost his appreciation for the show, perhaps most evident in his recent podcast LeVar Burton Reads, and the TV station that owns the rights to Reading Rainbow just dropped a lawsuit on Burton and his company RRKidz that holds them accountable for copyright infringement, breach of contract, cybersquatting and more. Oddly enough, the two are already embroiled in another suit.
Let's break down this newest lawsuit first, before dipping into the legally murky waters that led to this point. The Buffalo, New York public broadcaster WNED dropped this latest multi-headed suit on Burton and RRKidz due to the actor's use of the Reading Rainbow name on his new podcast, as well as the familiar catchphrase, "But you don't have to take my word for it." Apparently the first episode of LeVar Burton Reads features the host referring to the project as "Reading Rainbow for adults," which is a descriptor that stuck with the public, and WNED-Buffalo is calling for a cease of use on said slogan, according to THR, as well as profits from the podcast.
Beyond the spoken confusion between Reading Rainbow proper and LeVar Burton's RRKidz company, WNED is alleging that someone in Burton's camp has been also doing questionable things via the Internet. For instance, after the Reading Rainbow website posted a notice on August 1 specifically stating that RRKidz was no longer licensing the R.R. brand. Yet, allegedly unbeknownst to WNED for a time, there was a logo hyperlink in the corner of the webpage that directed those who clicked were sent to the site for LeVarBurtonKids, which the television broadcaster blamed RRKidz for. As well, the business alleged that RRKidz also removed content from the Reading Rainbow YouTube page without authorization, as well as renaming the iTunes app "Reading Rainbow Skybrary" with "LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary."
Now, if we can return to where a lot of this spat came from, RRKidz and WNED have been battling each other in court for over a year about a 2011 licensing deal. According to WNED, the profit-splitting deal was meant to allow the broadcasting company to create new episodes of Reading Rainbow, while RRKidz would be in control of the digital distribution.
But that all got upended in 2014 after LeVar Burton's hyper-successful (and legally non-official) Kickstarter campaign for a Reading Rainbow revival, which earned $6.5 million. WNED claims its efforts to move forward in creating new episodes were thrown into disarray after it was allegedly discovered that RRKidz had secretly brought in Jim Henson Co. to make a clandestine deal with Netflix to produce a revival season. On their side, Burton claims that the Netflix discussions were for a project completely independent of all things Reading Rainbow.
Other points of interest include WNED completely shutting down RRKidz's attempts to use the courtroom setting to gain any leverage on the broadcaster for taking the rights to the brand away. And those efforts apparently weren't minimal, either. Time will tell how this all plays out, but it seems like there will be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for someone. Probably the lawyers.