Black Mirror‘s Bandersnatch is Netflix’s latest hit. This TV show allows for viewers – or rather, players – to choose the outcome of the story by picking prompts throughout the viewing experience. If it sounds familiar to those Choose Your Own Adventure books of a bygone age, the copyright owners seem to think so too.
Chooseco LLC, publishers of the Choose Your Own Adventure type of books, are suing Netflix over Bandersnatch because, according to the court document: “trademark infringement, unfair competition, false designation of origin, and dilution arising under the Trademark Act of 1946… and for unfair competition..”
The document itself is dense and goes over a multitude of facts that mount up to what Chooseco believes is a trademark infringement, among other things. The reason for the lawsuit seems to pertain to the similarities of the two media. The court document says “… Bandersnatch viewers make choices to determine the plot and ending of the film.” Another part of the document talks about the mature subject matter of Bandersnatch, which has themes that are “too mature for the target audience” of Chooseco’s brand and that “this grim content tarnishes” the Choose Your Own Adventure trademark.
Although Chooseco believes the overall structure of the episode is worth the lawsuit, the court also document points out this interesting bit:
In the first few minutes of the movie, the protagonist refers to a fictional book in the diegesis as a Choose Your Own Adventure book. 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…
Further, they state that Netflix purposely and knowingly mentioned Chooseco’s brand because of the subtitles in the episode, which capitalize and quote Choose Your Own Adventure when it is mentioned by one of the characters.
Two other important facts made within the document are points 19 and 20. The first states that in 2016 Netflix tried and failed to negotiate a license for Choose Your Own Adventure. Later, Chooseco also wrote a cease and desist asking Netflix to stop using the Choose Your Own Adventure trademark while marketing for another unspecified show. Netflix has released several other interactive fiction shows, including Minecraft: Story Mode on the service that predate Bandersnatch.
On top of that, the company is upset that Netflix continues to distribute and stream the episode while reaping the benefits. Clearly, Chooseco thinks that Bandersnatch is too similar to their brand of books. In any case, the matter is being taken to court, with Chooseco asking for “at least $25 million or Netflix’s profits” in addition to costs. Stay tuned for more news when the case makes more headway.
Where do we draw the line? Telltale’s titles took a similar approach, although usually the endings were mostly set with a few permutations. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this case, as it will set an important precedent for the entertainment industry.
Who do you think will win the case? Let us know in the comments below!