The release of Netflix’s first interactive movie, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, has been met with more drama than anticipated. The movie, which has multiple endings and offers viewers the chance to make choices that set them on alternative plot paths, has now become the subject of a $25 million trademark infringement lawsuit.
Chooseco, a Vermont-based children’s book publisher that exclusively publishes a series of interactive “game books” entitled Choose Your Own Adventure, filed suit against Netflix in the District Court of Vermont for using its trademarked phrase, “Choose Your Own Adventure” and narrative structure as the conceptual basis for Bandersnatch.
Chooseco’s claims against Netflix are twofold. First, the publisher alleges that Netflix “willfully and intentionally [capitalized] on viewers’ nostalgia for the original book series” and benefited from association with the iconic Chooseco brand, despite not having permission to do so. The publisher also alleges that the disturbing content in Bandersnatch and discussion of the movie on social media have diluted Chooseco’s brand and tarnished its products.
According to the complaint, Netflix actively began pursuing a license to use Chooseco’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark in 2016. In spite of several years of negotiations, however, the parties did not reach a licensing agreement. Chooseco instead opted to enter into an open contract with Twentieth Century Fox to develop an interactive film series based on the Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Chooseco claims that despite this, Netflix used the “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark without permission in another TV program prior to the release of Bandersnatch. Chooseco allegedly sent Netflix a cease and desist letter in response to this infringement. This TV program was not named in the suit.
In December of 2018, Netflix released Bandersnatch, which follows a similar narrative style to the Choose Your Own Adventure books and makes reference to a choose-your-own-adventure-style book. Many critics noted the similarities between the interactive movie.
How The Experts Can Weigh In
As of now, it is unclear whether this suit will be settled out of court between the parties involved or go to trial. As with any trademark infringement case, experts in copyright law, trademark infringement, intellectual property, and entertainment law may all prove helpful in demonstrating whether or not Chooseco allowed Netflix to use its trademark and whether Netflix honored that agreement.
Should this case require litigation, Chooseco will also have to prove that the brand’s “goodwill and positive associations” have been negatively impacted through their association with Bandersnatch. Experts in social media communications could discuss the movie’s response across social media platforms and analyze the general attitude towards the Choose Your Own Adventure series in different demographic audiences. Experts in economic damages may also prove useful in determining the impact this infringement has caused on Chooseco’s book sales.