New York television station sues 'Reading Rainbow' host LeVar Burton

Burton, WNED In Battle Over 'Reading Rainbow'

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- WNED-TV, the PBS affiliate in Buffalo, is suing the former host of one of the most popular children's television shows in history.

The broadcaster filed a federal lawsuit against LeVar Burton accusing him of copyright infringement, breach of contract and other civil violations of law.

Burton was the host of the show, Reading Rainbow, which was produced by WNED from 1983 until 2006.

Burton and WNED have been in an ongoing legal battle for more than a year, but this new lawsuit was filed just days ago in federal court in Manhattan.

The overall legal confrontation dates back to 2011, when both sides agreed to a deal to license "digital" aspects of the Reading Rainbow brand to Burton in exchange for royalties.  That relationship went south, and by 2015, WNED sought to terminate the deal.

In the new lawsuit, WNED's attorneys write that "Burton's goal is to control and reap the benefits of Reading Rainbow's substantial goodwill -- goodwill that unquestionably belongs to WNED."

As one example, the television station says Burton ends his podcast with, "But you don't have to take my word for it." That's a catch phrase from the Reading Rainbow show, and WNED contends Burton is violating its copyright protection by his unauthorized use of the phrase.

He's also accused of using www.ReadingRainbow.com and other websites to direct people to his own site to sell products and services.

WNED contends that Burton's company, RRKidz, transferred the show's digital distribution rights to a friend's firm, Raymonds Capital, which is also named as a defendant in this latest lawsuit. That transfer happened despite the initial legal case still being tied up in the courts.

The complaint says, "Once WNED terminated the License Agreement ... RRKidz lost both the right to distribute the (Reading Rainbow) Series and the right to use that right as security. Thus, RRKidz's post-termination pledge of $2.5 million to Raymonds Capital is void."

An attorney for WNED, Michael Smith, told 2 On Your Side Thursday evening that his firm had no comment on the pending litigation.

A spokesperson for Burton and RRKidz released the following statement when asked for comment:

LeVar and RRKidz intend to respond to WNED’s baseless litigation in court.  LeVar will not let this unpleasant lawsuit distract from his commitment to children’s education.  LeVar looks forward to expanding his content offerings and areas of focus through a new venture, LeVar Burton Kids. LeVar Burton Kids will continue to offer updated content through the Skybrary and Skybrary School services and create new original programming with LeVar's voice and mission at the helm. In addition to introducing STEM-based subjects, he intends to explore diversity, equality, and social emotional topics.

© 2017 WGRZ-TV


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