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The battle over Reading Rainbow

A 2009 tweet from LeVar Burton gave fans of Reading Rainbow a glimmer of hope. The star of “Roots” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” announced a revival of the popular show that encouraged people to read in every episode that aired from 1983 to 2006.

Eight years later, the show’s host and a public broadcaster seem to be on a different page.

WNED in Buffalo, New York, is accusing Burton of hijacking the long-running PBS show. In the suit, they are demanding that Burton’s company relinquish administrative access to various websites and social media accounts. Additionally, WNED wants the host to stop using the Reading Rainbow’s catchphrase, “But you don’t have to take my word for it” that Burton proclaims on his LeVar Burton Reads podcast.

The lawsuit represents a culmination of an ongoing legal battle between RRKidz and WNED that started in 2011. Burton secured a license from WNED to use intellectual property related to Reading Rainbow. The agreement allowed Burton’s company to assume digital distribution of the show while the broadcaster would make new episodes. All profits would be split.

Three years later, Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Reading’s revival that generated $6.5 million. WNED claimed they discovered secret negotiations between RRKidz and The Jim Henson Co. with Netflix for a new Reading Rainbow. It is a charge Burton’s company denies.

After WNED sent RRKidz a formal notice of termination, RRKidz requested a New York judge keep the licensing deal in place because they have fully performed under the agreement. WNED submitted a counterclaim of interference before filing the most recent lawsuit accusing Burton’s company of copyright infringement, cybersquatting, breach of contract, interference with customer relations, among other charges.

Regardless of legal maneuverings, the split seems permanent. On August 1, the official Reading Rainbow website posted a notice that RRKidz would no longer license the Reading Rainbow brand. The upper right-hand corner featured a link to “LeVar Burton Kids.” In addition, the Reading Rainbow Skybrary app on iTunes was replaced by LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary. Content on Reading Rainbow’s YouTube site was also removed.

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