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Book Publisher Sues Netflix over Black Mirror Episode

January 16, 2019

I have issues with Netflix, but I don’t want to cancel it!(image via wikimedia)

It’s interesting to see Netflix get sued by a book publisher, even though the legal part of it might be boring. Legal stuff is interesting to most people only when sex or violence is involved.  Netflix has lots of sex and violence in its programming, but this lawsuit is only about possible trademark infringement.

Here’s the short version, probably with a lot of details missing (you can get more details here).  Last month Netflix (and the BBC) released an episode of Black Mirror called Bandersnatch.  The episode is set in the 1980s and centers on an interactive book that was part of a Choose Your Own Adventure book series in the episode.  The legal problem is that there actually is a Choose Your Own Adventure book series which was popular (I think) in the 1990s.

The publishing company doesn’t like the way Bandersnatch portrays Choose Your Own Adventure and is seeking… ugh… this is where I get a headache.  I’m glad I didn’t go to law school.

I think I remember the Choose Your Adventure books (or something like it).  They were popular in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the nerds, geeks, and weirdos (today they’d be called the cool people) played fantasy role playing games with boards and cards and dice.  Computers were too expensive for most families to purchase, so interactive entertainment was through books and board games.

Anyway, the publisher of Choose Your Own Adventure is claiming damages because Netflix used the phrase/title Choose Your Own Adventures without the publishing company’s permission.  Trademark infringement is different from copyright infringement (I’m not a lawyer, but I know just enough to be dangerous).   You can’t copyright a book title, but you can trademark a term or phrase as a brand.

Evidently, Netflix’s version of Choose Your Own Adventure was too disturbing or violent or adult and didn’t reflect what Choose Your Own Adventure really is.  The publisher thinks Bandersnatch’s version of Choose Your Own Adventure could negatively affect its brand.

I can understand an independent publishing company trying to defend its product.  Publishing companies don’t find successful books (or book series) very often, so they have to milk it or defend it when they can.

Even so, I have no idea how strong of a case this publishing company has.  I don’t know how damaging a warped version of Choose Your Own Adventure would be on a children’s series with the same name.  I don’t know if this is a case where an entity like Netflix automatically wins because it’s Netflix (or if it automatically loses because it’s Netflix).

The biased part of me wants protection for the small publishing company, but that’s just me.  Even though I subscribe to Netflix, there’s a lot I don’t like about it.  I don’t like the binge-watching model that too many of its original shows use, where the story takes up the entire season of 10-15 episodes.  There is a lot of wasted time in that model, and that wasted time is probably intentional.

It’s not just Netflix, but a lot of people use Netflix to refer to streaming services in general.  These streaming services have glutted the market with so much programming that it’s affecting how much time people spend reading books.  Yeah, I know the lawsuit has nothing to do with binge watching, but I feel like I need to root for the books.  I guess I can’t be on the jury now.

Bandersnatch is a long episode of the series Black Mirror, and I see Black Mirror the series as the opposite of most streamed programming.  I actually like Black Mirror (from what I’ve seen) because each episode is a self-contained story.  The episodes can get kind of weird, but you don’t have to invest an entire day to get to the end of a story.

I’m getting old.  I have little interest in watching the Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror, but I’m interested to see how this legal case turns out.


What do you think?  Do you get more or less interested in legal stuff as you get older?  Is it wrong for me to root for the small book publisher just because I like books?  Or should I be… ugh… objective?

From → Pop culture

  1. pipitinc permalink

    The shade between who owns what is usually tenuous in IP cases. But I salute the courage of the publisher all the same. Nice post

    • Thanks!

      And I hope the publisher has the money to pay the legal fees to compete with Netflix’s deep pockets (and possible political/judicial connections).

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