Reading Rainbow taught a generation of kids that they could (a) go twice as high as a butterfly, (b) go anywhere, and (c) be anything. Unfortunately, if you chose to be “LeVar Burton using his classic Reading Rainbow catchphrase,” the place you will go might be court. According to The Hollywood Reporter, WNED-TV Buffalo, New York, is suing the children’s show host in part over his continued use of the tagline “But you don’t have to take my word for it” on his podcast LeVar Burton Reads. The suit is the most recent legal move in a years-long dispute between Burton and the broadcaster that originated the series. Burton’s company RRKidz had previously obtained a licensing agreement from WNED, which subsequently claimed the former host breached their deal by allegedly attempting to, among other things, produce a Reading Rainbow revival for Netflix without WNED’s involvement.
Burton is also involved in a related ongoing lawsuit over licensing the Reading Rainbow brand and IP. His company sued the tv station, but you don’t have to take my word for it. This new lawsuit is merely one more wrinkle in the case.
WNED-TV wants to block Burton from using a common English phrase, which is in and of itself ridiculous, but what makes this especially absurd is that the station does not hold a trademark on the phrase. (But you don’t have to take my word for it.)
It would be easy to frame this as IP bullying, but the filing presents a strong argument that the tv station is the wronged party here.
Of course, the filing only presents their side (so we really only have half the story) but the station is claiming they filed suit after Burton’s company, RRKidz, moved its digital library, the Reading Rainbow Skybrary, to a new website and changed the name.
A lot of the coverage is framing this in terms of Burton’s new podcast, but the real issue is that the station claims it has been denied access to the Reading Rainbow social media accounts, website, and other valuables.
This is not nearly as simple as some are making it sound, and until IP attorneys weigh in I would not assume that either side is s fault.