LeVar Burton Being Sued by ‘Reading Rainbow’ Co-Owner for Copyright Infringement

Getty Actor LeVar Burton speaks during the Star Trek: Mission New York event at Javits Center on September 3, 2016 in New York City.

LeVar Burton, the host of PBS’s Reading Rainbow from 1983 until 2006, is being sued by a Buffalo, New York public broadcasting station for trying to “reap the benefits” of the long-running educational show years after its conclusion.

On August 4, WNED in Buffalo, a co-creator of the series and the exclusive rights owner, filed a lawsuit that claims it owns copyright to all episodes on the series, as well as “various famous and distinctive trademarks.”

According to the lawsuit, WNED wants to ban Burton from using the his popular Reading Rainbow catchphrase, “I’ll see you next time, but you don’t have to take my word for it,” on his popular podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, in addition to many other things.

The lawsuit also asks Burton to hand over access to his company’s social media accounts and website, claiming that he’s still profiting off of the show despite it the WNED’s property.

In 2011, Burton formed the company RRKidz Inc. and obtained a license from WNED to use the property it owns, meaning it took over digital distribution of the program. But that’s where Burton’s relationship with the show ended, WNED claims in its lawsuit.

“At no point has LeVar Burton ever held, in his personal capacity, any rights to the RR Intellectual Property,” the lawsuit reads.

Read the lawsuit filed in the New York’s Southern District Court in the document below:

Burton continued holding the license through 2015, when the relationship between the two parties soured, and WNED terminated the license. However, Burton and his lawyers challenged the termination, which hasn’t yet been completely resolved.

“Until August 1, 2017, RRKidz conducted its business as if the license agreement had not been terminated,” the suit alleges.

WNED accuses Burton of retaining exclusive control over WNED’s websites, social media accounts and YouTube pages, noting that Burton’s company “claims exclusive ownership” of Reading Rainboy Skybrary and uses the website ReadingRainbow.com to redirect visitors to Burton’s website.

Burton started a campaign back in 2009 to try and revive Reading Rainbow, and WNED claims that at that time, Burton had no rights to the show’s property.

In 2014, Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $6.5 million to bring the show back, and he used the funds to build and expand on an iPad application that is a subscription-based digital library of children’s books.

The lawsuit further states that with WNED holding exclusive rights to the show, it had the sole ability to launch a revival. However, Burton’s RRKidz entered talks with Netflix to create new episodes of the series, and a production deal was hatched.

“While RRKidz was secretly negotiating with Netflix, WNED had been working on the development of a new Reading Rainbow series,” the lawsuit states, noting that it wasn’t intending on using Burton as the host.

On February 5, 2016, RRKidz filed a lawsuit of its own against WNED, claiming that the license agreement between the two parties could not be terminated. Despite the new suit, the license was officially terminated by WNED on March 18, 2016, the company claims claims, however RRKidz “continued to exploit the original episodes of the RR series.”

The two parties continued their legal battle until WNED’s formal lawsuit was filed in New York court in August.

With all of the surrounding context, this case seems like it could be a long way from over.

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