LeVar Burton Is Sued in 'Reading Rainbow' Copyright Dispute — But You Don't Have to Take Our Word for It

The lawsuit states that "Mr. Burton's goal is to control and reap the benefits of Reading Rainbow's substantial goodwill"

Photo: Ben Horton/FilmMagic

LeVar Burton, the actor who hosted PBS’s Reading Rainbow from 1983 to 2006, is being sued in a wide-ranging lawsuit that claims he is attempting to “reap the benefits” of the beloved show that is technically owned by a public broadcasting station in Buffalo, New York.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Reading Rainbow‘s current owner, WNED, has been in court with Burton for over a year disputing a 2011 licensing deal.

The broadcaster filed a new lawsuit on Friday that claims it owns the rights to intellectual property associated with Reading Rainbow being used by Burton and his company, RRKidz. The broadcaster also wants to prohibit Burton, 60, from using the show’s catchphrase — “But you don’t have to take my word for it” — on his podcast, LeVar Burton Reads.

Although WNED agreed to license the property to Burton for an online revival of the series in 2011, they decided to terminate the deal in 2015 in part because the former host attempted to produce a Reading Rainbow revival — for which he raised $6.5 million on Kickstarter — without WNED’s involvement, the lawsuit claims.

“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,” the complaint reads. “Now that WNED has called their bluff and is prepared to take the RRKIDZ Action to trial, defendants have resorted to theft and extortion.”

Courtesy LeVar Burton

The complaint also accuses RRKidz of transferring the rights to Reading Rainbow to a company owned by a close friend of Burton’s. It also alleges that the contents of the Reading Rainbow website have been moved to LeVarBurtonKids.com — and the Reading Rainbow Skybrary has been rebranded as “LeVar Burton‘s Skybrary.” (According to CourthouseNews.com, Skybrary by Reading Rainbow is a subscription-based digital library of children’s books, “video field trips”, and clips from the original Reading Rainbow series that users can access on mobile devices.)

The network wants RRKidz to give it access to various websites and social media accounts that use Reading Rainbow content. It also takes issue with the Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation alum describing his podcast as “Reading Rainbow for adults,” and for using the “but you don’t have to take my word for it” slogan so closely associated with the series.

“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.

WNED is suing both Burton and RRKidz for copyright infringement, conversion, cybersquatting, breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, interference with customer relations, trademark infringement and declaratory relief.

PEOPLE’s calls to Burton and his attorneys have not yet been returned.

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