You’re getting sued, LeVar Burton — but you don’t have to take our word for it.
Former “Reading Rainbow” host Burton has been hit with a lawsuit by a broadcaster who says that he’s infringing on copyrights associated with the series.
In the suit, filed in federal court in New York on Friday, Buffalo-based PBS affiliate WNED maintains that it owns the rights to intellectual property associated with “Reading Rainbow,” and agreed to license the property to Burton for an online revival of the series in 2011.
By 2015, however, the relationship between the parties soured, and WNED decided to terminate the license, at which point many, though not all, licensed rights reverted back to WNED, according to the suit.
According to WNED, Burton’s company RRKidz has challenged the termination, leaving the two entities “embroiled in contentious litigation arising out of that termination for the better part of two years. The validity of WNED’s termination has yet to be fully adjudicated.”
The suit accuses RRKidz of pulling a fast one on Aug. 1, purporting to transfer the rights to “Reading Rainbow” to a company owned by Burton’s close friend; moving the contents of the “Reading Rainbow” website to levarburtonkids.com; rebranding Reading Rainbow Skybrary as “LeVar Burton‘s Skybrary”; and redirecting visitors at the “Reading Rainbow” website to the LeVar Burton Kids website.
“As a result of defendants’ actions, WNED has no meaningful access to Reading Rainbow customers, no control over the distribution of the classic RR Series, and no revenue from the exploitation of either the RR Series or Reading Rainbow Skybrary,” the lawsuit reads. “At the same time, defendants are exerting full control over the RR Intellectual Property, and using it to promote Mr. Burton at the expense of WNED and Reading Rainbow.”
According to the suit, a court ordered RRKidz not to represent that Burton owns Reading Rainbow in Oct. 2016, but the media “latched onto Mr. Burton’s use of the phrase ‘Reading Rainbow for adults,’ and it became the de facto slogan for [his] podcast.”
Among the infringements, the suit alleges, is Burton’s use of the saying, “I’ll see you next time, but you don’t have to take my word for it” at the end of each episode of his podcast.
“Burton’s use of both the Slogan and the Tagline from the RR Series is an unmistakable — and unauthorized — invocation of Reading Rainbow,” the lawsuit says.
The suit is asking for an order preventing RRKids from “reproducing, distributing, publicly performing, or publicly displaying content substantially similar to the RR Series, other than the continued distribution of content created prior to March 18, 2016 through Reading Rainbow Skybrary, as that product existed at the time of the termination of the License Agreement.”
It’s also asking for the court to restrain Burton from using the phrases “Reading Rainbow for adults” and “…but you don’t have to take my word for it” in connection with the “LeVar Burton Reads” podcast.
Alleging copyright infringement, cybersquatting, trademark infringement and other counts, the suit is seeking unspecified damages.
TheWrap has reached out to Burton’s camp for comment.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.