Did Netflix see this plot twist coming?
The company behind the popular “Choose Your Own Adventure” books for children and young adults is suing Netflix for $25 million, claiming that the streaming media giant improperly used its trademark for the interactive “Bandersnatch” episode in the series “Black Mirror.”
Chooseco, the company that owns the “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark, argues in a complaint filed in a Vermont federal court Friday, that “Bandersnatch” explicitly refers to the literary brand when a character describes the central book in the episode as a “Choose Your Own Adventure book.”
The company alleges that Netflix made the reference “willfully and intentionally to capitalize on viewers’ nostalgia for the original book series.” It also claims that Netflix has tarnished the children’s brand because the episode features dark and disturbing themes, including drug use and murder.
Netflix, which declined to comment, released “Bandersnatch” globally on its streaming platform on Dec. 28. Set in 1984, the 90-minute episode focuses on a young computer programmer (Fionn Whitehead) who attempts to adapt a book, titled “Bandersnatch,” into a video game. The interactive episode allows viewers to choose different plot outcomes as the characters navigate a series of increasingly complicated twists.
Chooseco alleges in its suit that in 2016, Netflix pursued a license to use the “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark for its movies and cartoons. But the company said Netflix never obtained a license.
The suit also alleges that Chooseco sent a cease-and-desist notice to Netflix regarding the use of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark in connection to another series.
Netflix’s use of the trademark likely won’t be protected by fair-use laws, according to Sam P. Israel, a New York-based copyright attorney and litigator who isn't involved with the case. He said Netflix’s alleged pursuit of a license showed that Netflix was aware that this was protected intellectual property.
Chooseco could also prevail in its argument that its brand was hurt by the dark tone of “Bandersnatch,” according to Israel.
“If you're using the trademark in a way that's contrary to the brand, you could see how it does damage to their name,” he said.
Chooseco, which is based in Vermont, said it is seeking at least $25 million in damages from Netflix.
"The misappropriation of our mark by Netflix presents an extreme challenge for a small independent publisher like Chooseco," said Shannon Gilligan, the company co-founder and publisher, in a statement.