WNED and LeVar Burton terminate licensing deal for ‘Reading Rainbow’

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Former Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton no longer licenses the show’s brand from the public TV station that created the program, a result of two lawsuits that concluded Friday.

Details of the settlement, reached in August, are confidential, said Nancy Hammond, COO of WNED in Buffalo, N.Y. The cases concluded after legal action “took longer than expected to complete,” she said.

“WNED is currently working on the next chapter of Reading Rainbow and will continue its mission of fostering education for a new generation,” Hammond said.

WNED initially licensed the Reading Rainbow brand to Burton’s RRKidz organization in 2011. The deal allowed RRKidz to market and distribute original Reading Rainbow episodes on digital platforms and sell certain merchandise, with WNED receiving a revenue cut.

The station sought to terminate the licensing agreement in 2015 and filed suit in 2016, stating that it had not given permission for a crowdfunding campaign Burton staged. It also accused RRKidz of creating new digital episodes of the program with Reading Rainbow branding, which their agreement prohibited. And it said RRKidz was negotiating with Netflix to produce and distribute new episodes.

The actions amounted to RRKidz “illicitly and methodically” attempting to take over the Reading Rainbow brand, WNED said.

A second WNED lawsuit in August contended that RRKidz rebranded a “Reading Rainbow Skybrary” interactive digital library as the “LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary.” The Skybrary, a digital subscription service, remains on Burton’s site under that name.

The station also claimed it owned the Reading Rainbow catchphrase “But you don’t have to take my word for it” and sought to keep Burton from using it. The arts and culture website Vulture reported Thursday that Burton said he is now allowed to use the phrase.

Burton said in a statement that he is “very happy” with the settlement and that he will continue “igniting a love of learning in children” through his LeVar Burton Kids website. He will also continue his podcast for adults, LeVar Burton Reads.