Chooseco, the publishing company behind the “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s books, is suing Netflix over its recent film “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.” The lawsuit, filed Friday morning in Vermont’s federal district court, claims the streaming service infringed upon the “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark and cast a dark shadow on viewers' pleasant memories of the book series.
“Bandersnatch,” released Dec. 28, is the latest installment of “Black Mirror,” Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi series focusing on the dark and sometimes twisted ways in which technology has affected society. The film delayed the show’s fifth season and centers on a young computer programmer named Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), who creates a game based on a novel from his childhood. He describes the novel as “a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book” once, though Netflix has neither described nor marketed the film as such.
Like the Chooseco book series, most popular in the 1980s and 1990s, “Bandersnatch” is interactive. Viewers have the ability to choose different paths for Stefan throughout the episode, and Netflix has said that there are five possible endings and more than a trillion story combinations overall. In true “Black Mirror” fashion, they contain extreme violence and drug use.
“Netflix has no license or authorization to use Chooseco’s trademark and, upon information and belief, used the mark willfully and intentionally to capitalize on viewers' nostalgia for the original book series,” the official complaint states, later adding that the film is “causing confusion, tarnishing, denigrating, and diluting the distinct quality" of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” name.
Proving a likelihood of confusion is key to claiming trademark infringement. In a Friday news release, Chooseco co-founder Shannon Gilligan said “Bandersnatch” has introduced a number of related challenges for the independent publishing company.
“We have received an unprecedented amount of outreach from people who believed we were associated with the creation of this film, including parents who were concerned that we had aligned the CYOA brand they knew and loved with content that surprised and offended them,” Gilligan said. “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.”
The filed complaint also mentions that Twentieth Century Fox has an option contract with Chooseco to develop a “Choose Your Own Adventure” film series. Netflix had pursued a license to use the name in films and interactive cartoons in 2016, it continues, but “extensive negotiations” between the publisher and the streaming service were ultimately unsuccessful.
Chooseco is seeking at least $25 million in damages, citing unfair competition and false designation of origin along with trademark infringement. A Netflix representative declined to comment on the lawsuit.
This isn’t the first time Netflix has faced this sort of legal trouble. The Satanic Temple filed a $50 million copyright lawsuit against the company in November, claiming it had copied the temple’s statue of Baphomet in “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” They settled the case later that month, with Netflix agreeing to acknowledge the similarities in the end credits of episodes that had already been filmed.