12 Jan 2019

Book publisher to sue Netflix over Black Mirror episode

3:58 pm on 12 January 2019

Chooseco, the children's book publisher that owns the trademark to the Choose Your Own Adventure series, is suing Netflix for $US25 million ($NZ36.64) over its immersive movie Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

A still from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

A still from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Photo: Screengrab

Bandersnatch was released in December as a feature-length episode of the Black Mirror series. During the film, the action pauses at various points to allow the viewer to decide the next course of action.

According to a complaint filed in Vermont Federal Court, the plaintiff claimed Netflix had actively pursued a licence since 2016 for use of the Choose Your Own Adventure trademark but no deal was reached.

"Chooseco and Netflix engaged in extensive negotiations that were ongoing for a number of years, but Netflix did not receive a licence," the complaint reads.

"On at least one occasion before the release of Bandersnatch, Chooseco sent a written cease and desist request to Netflix asking Netflix to stop using the CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE mark in connection with its marketing efforts for another television program."

The plaintiff said 20th Century Fox currently holds an options contract to develop an interactive series based on the books, which allow readers to influence the story they are reading by turning to different pages.

According to the lawsuit, Netflix is benefitting from an association with the Choose Your Own Adventure brand, with Bandersnatch widely discussed in the media as being connected to the phrase.

The complaint also points out the main character in Bandersnatch, Stefan Butler, references the books.

When his father says a book Butler is reading - and plans to develop into a game - must be good because he is always "flicking back and forth", the character responds "No, it's a Choose Your Own Adventure book".

The publishers said the brand had been damaged due to the adult themes in the movie, with viewers confused over the association between it and the books.

"The misappropriation of our mark by Netflix presents an extreme challenge for a small independent publisher like Chooseco," the complaint states.

"The use of Choose Your Own Adventure in association with such graphic content is likely to cause significant damage, impacting our book sales and affecting our ability to work with licensing partners in the future.

"We would prefer not to resort to litigation but given the damage that we will suffer as a result of the use of our mark we've been left with no other option."

Chooseco, which has owned the trademark since the 1980s, is claiming infringement, dilution and unfair competition and demanding at least $US25 million ($NZ36.64) in damages or Netflix's profits, whichever is greater.

Netflix, which has avoided using the phrase "choose your own adventure" in advertising, is yet to comment publicly on the case.

The Choose Your Own Adventure series has sold more than 265 million copies worldwide.