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LeVar Burton Sued For Theft & Extortion Over 'Reading Rainbow' Catchphrase

A PBS affiliate has filed a lawsuit against LeVar Burton for using the 'Reading Rainbow' catchphrase on his podcast. 

Eight years after LeVar Burton tweeted his intention to revive Reading Rainbow, he's now being personally sued for essentially hijacking the long-running PBS show that encourages people to read. On Friday, WNED (a public broadcaster in Buffalo, N.Y.) filed a wide-ranging lawsuit that demands among other things that Burton's company hand over administrative access to various websites and social media accounts. The lawsuit also seeks to enjoin Burton from using the Reading Rainbow catchphrase, "But you don't have to take my word for it," on his podcast, LeVar Burton Reads.

Although this is a new lawsuit, WNED and Burton's RRKidz have been in court with each other for more than a year over a 2011 licensing deal.

According to court papers, RRKidz obtained a license from WNED to use intellectual property related to Reading Rainbow, which ran on PBS between 1983 and 2006 and was hosted by Burton, an actor known for his roles as Kunta Kinte in Roots and as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

WNED's interpretation of the agreement is that the 2011 deal represented a “divide and conquer” approach to the renaissance of Reading Rainbow whereby RRKidz would be allowed to take over digital distribution of the series while the broadcaster would focus on making new episodes. Profits were to be split.

But then in 2014, Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the show's revival and brought in $6.5 million. WNED was upset at the loss of control and further alleges that its own efforts to develop a new series were undermined when RRKidz along with The Jim Henson Co. began secretly negotiating with Netflix for a new Reading Rainbow series. In response to the allegation, RRKidz said the Netflix discussions pertained to an original concept and not Reading Rainbow.

Nevertheless, WNED informed RRKidz that the licensing agreement had been breached. After RRKidz received a formal notice of termination, Burton's company asked a New York federal judge to declare that it had fully performed under the agreement and that the licensing deal couldn't be ended. WNED submitted counterclaims including the allegation that RRKidz had tortiously interfered with its own Netflix series.

As the parties continue to wage war over the 2011 agreement, WNED has now filed a second lawsuit against Burton and his company.

This one discusses how in June, Burton launched a new podcast, Levar Burton Reads, where the actor narrates short stories. The complaint quotes what happened 48 seconds into the first episode:

Female Voice: Let's talk about...

Burton: Why I want to do a podcast?

Female Voice: Yeah, let's talk about that.

Burton: Yeah, yeah. Well here's the thing: People have asked me, um, for years and years and years, when are you going to do a Reading Rainbow for adults? And it's always been something that's on my mind so I wanted to address that, I wanted to address a Reading Rainbow for adults.

The complaint goes on to address how the media has latched on to the phrase "Reading Rainbow for adults" as the de facto slogan for the podcast and how Burton told WNYC's Brian Lehrer, "People are calling it Reading Rainbow for adults, and I can't stop them from that."

On Aug. 1, the Reading Rainbow website featured a prominent new notice, "As of August 1st, 2017 RRKidz will no longer license the Reading Rainbow brand. ReadingRainbow.com is owned and operated by WNED-Buffalo."

On the upper right-hand corner was a logo for "LeVar Burton Kids" with a link that took readers to levarburtonkids.com. WNED alleges that RRKidz was responsible for this change as well as how the "Reading Rainbow Skybrary" app on iTunes was replaced with the "LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary" app. Additionally, content on the Reading Rainbow YouTube page was removed.

"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," states the complaint. "First, defendants tried to assert control over the brand through deception: secret negotiations with Netflix, false assertions of ownership of the RR Intellectual Property, and misleading efforts to persuade WNED’s business associates to make Mr. Burton the host of any new series. Then, defendants tried brute force: the RRKIDZ Action, through which they tied up the RR Intellectual Property while waging a war of attrition intended to extract a settlement that would loosen restrictions of their ability to exploit the RR Intellectual Property. Now that WNED has called their bluff and is prepared to take the RRKIDZ Action to trial, defendants have resorted to theft and extortion. As the RRKIDZ Action moved closer to trial, RRKidz began working with Mr. Burton’s longtime friend, John Raymonds, to secretly encumber the RR Intellectual Property as collateral for $2.5 million in loans from Raymonds Capital."

WNED is alleging that Burton's company pledged its rights under the licensing agreement to Raymonds Capital in return for money and then attempted to terminate its deal with the broadcaster. WNED, however, insists that RRKidz' rights were already lost more than a year ago.

Burton and RRKidz are now being sued for copyright infringement, conversion, cybersquatting, violations of the Lanham Act, breach of contract and interference with customer relations.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Here's the complaint, which is notable for many reasons including an attempt to stop an actor from uttering the catchphrase he used for more than two decades. WNED argues that the slogan has become "immutably associated with Reading Rainbow" and that Burton's use in a manner not authorized by WNED causes confusion, mistake or deception as to the origins. WNED not only wants an injunction, but also profits from Burton's podcast.

 

 

This story was originally published on The Hollywood Reporter

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Jussie Smollett's Attorneys Deny Actor Paid $3,500 To Orchestrate Attack

Sources close to the Jussie Smollett investigation have spoken with several media outlets and allege new evidence shows the Empire actor may have orchestrated the attack, and even paid men $3,500 to go through with it.

The two men who are brothers were arrested Wednesday and released Friday (Feb. 15) without charges. Both men are cooperating fully with Chicago police, and authorities found records they purchased a rope at a local hardware store, which was used during the attack.

Smollett's attorneys, Todd S. Pugh, and Victor P. Henderson, quickly denied the claim made by authorities.

"As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with," the statement read. "He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying."

On Jan. 29, Smollett was leaving a Subway fast-food restaurant when the actor alleges to have been attacked by two men who beat him, poured bleach on him and tried to hang a rope around his neck. The 35-year-old entertainer, who identifies as gay, said one of the men shouted "This is MAGA country" as well as other racial and homophobic slurs.

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said one of the men appeared on Empire and have past affiliation with Smollett.

During his interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America Thursday (Feb. 14), Smollett expressed frustration about not being believed. Sunday morning (Feb. 17) the hashtag 'JussieSmollettHoax' trended on Twitter. The Internet was split with many offering a digital "I told you so" due to the reports, while others, particularly members of the black LGBTQ community, questioning why many were quick to believe the word of law enforcement.

Us straight men waiting on the LGBT community to apologize after Jussie lied pic.twitter.com/0PDmNX4ykZ

— Flickens McCray (@Mickens__) February 17, 2019

https://twitter.com/angryblkhoemo/status/1096967004517515266

No idea what actually happened w/ Jussie Smollett. But do know that 4 years ago, Chicago PD spent 13 months justifying Laquan McDonald’s murder before releasing dashcam video showing he was walking away before being shot at 16x by an officer. Why are we just accepting their word?

— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) February 17, 2019

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American Soul Episode 3 Recap: Don the Father, Don the Son

American Soul's third episode three opens as the major characters confront various types of loss in their worlds. The Clarke family lays Joseph to rest, accompanied by Babyface’s spare, a capella rendition of “What’s Going On” (Babyface is the music supervisor for American Soul). Tessa digs under her bed to pull out an old dance photo and stare at it longingly. Don is still chasing large bookings like Marvin Gaye - and still hitting a wall - when Delores calls to tell him their oldest son is missing.

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Tony just wants to be with him, whatever that takes. Don wants to break generational cycles, he wants to be a better man and father than his father was – the last flashback is of Don as a young man beating his dad in a fight and declaring his independence – but softness is a challenge for him. When Tony gets back to Chicago, he plays out a version of “Why he don’t want me, Uncle Phil?” with his mother Deloris (Perri Camper), who assures him that his Daddy loves him “so strong that it’ll break the world in two, and whatever he’s done wrong is small when you hold it against that.” (Grown Tony Cornelius, by the way, is the Executive Producer of American Soul.)

What this episode got right: Robert Barisford Brown aka Bobby Brown as Rufus Thomas just made us so incredibly happy, because Bobby was basically playing a future version of himself. Thomas pulling Flo on stage to dance – and Don being mad about it – is based on Soul Train dancer Damita Jo Freeman jumping on stage to dance with singer Joe Tex – and Don being mad about it.

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What we don’t understand: Why we saw a Kentucky Fried Chicken ad, kept hearing talk about ad dollars and accounts, but there’s been no mention of Afro Sheen or Ultra Sheen.

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Man Who Worked On 'Empire' Set Brought Into Questioning For Jussie Smollett Attack

Update: 7:30 pm ET (Feb. 14, 2019) - Chicago PD is denying reports that claim the attack against Jussie Smollett was staged due to him being written out of Empire. The police department claims those rumors have not been confirmed at this time.

20th Century Fox TV, the network that distributes Empire, also denied those reports. The network released a statement claiming that Jussie is a very important character on the TV series. "The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous," 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment said today (Feb. 14). "He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him."

--

Original story published below...

Chicago police investigating the attack against Jussie Smollett reportedly brought him and two other people, who are reportedly African-American males, in for questioning on Thursday (Feb. 14), the Chicago Tribune reports. One of the two people interviewed included an actor who allegedly works on the set of Empire.

The Tribune claims that police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi emphasized that the two "are not considered suspects at this time." That report conflicts with TMZ's, however, which reports that both have been pegged "persons of interest." Multiple sources have also told ABC News Chicago that Smollett and the two men being questioned allegedly staged the whole attack because his character was being written out of Empire.

[email protected] has learned new details about the two men police are questioning about Jussie Smollett’s claim he was the victim of a racial & homophobic attack:

1) Both men are African-American 2) At least 1 of them is connected to the “Empire” show

Latest on @WGNNews at 4p pic.twitter.com/Xw7aBHjh5M

— Ben Bradley (@BenBradleyTV) February 14, 2019

Officials have not revealed the name of the actor who was questioned, and it's unclear if both suspects are the two people seen in the grainy video released in Jan. 2019. They do, however, believe that the two people were at the scene of the alleged attack.

Sources close to the situation stated that the suspects were picked up by Chicago Police Department on Wednesday night (Feb. 13) for further questioning after flew flew into O'Hare Airport, TMZ reports.

The latest report comes briefly after the actor appeared on his first TV interview since the incident on Good Morning America.

"I will never be the man that this did not happen to. I am forever changed,” the actor said of allegedly being attacked by MAGA supporters. "And I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I do subscribe to the idea that we have the right and the responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us, good and bad."

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