Today in weird book news, Chooseco LLC, the "Choose Your Own Adventure" book publisher, sued Netflix over Bandersnatch, claiming that the interactive film "deliberately exploited the brand awareness of its book series to launch" the Black Mirror special, according to Variety. Per the lawsuit, which may be read here, the Vermont-based Chooseco is asking for $25 million in damages.
The major players here are Chooseco LLC, which has published the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books since the original trademark, owned by Bantam books, lapsed in 2007, and Netflix, which assumed ownership of Black Mirror in 2015. Choose Your Own Adventure books were first published by Bantam in 1979, and the series continued to see new releases throughout the 1990s, as you probably remember from your visits to the library.
You probably have seen Black Mirror: Bandersnatch by now (or at least seen the discussions on Twitter), but here's a breakdown: An interactive, film-length episode Black Mirror: Bandersnatch puts viewers in control of Stefan Butler, a 1980s computer programmer who has been tasked with turning a children's book — one that reportedly drove its author insane — into a video game. Viewers begin with pretty banal decision-making, such as what cereal Stefan will eat for breakfast, but the stakes rise quickly, with lives hanging in the balance. According to Netflix, there are five major endings to the story and which one you end up with rests solely upon your decisions throughout the movie.
Filed in federal court in Vermont on Friday, Chooseco's lawsuit alleges that Netflix had once been interested in the "Choose Your Own Adventure" name for some of its entertainment media and that Netflix had actively pursued a license. According to the case, after extensive negotiations, Netflix did not receive a license."
Because of this, Chooseco takes issue with the use of "Choose Your Own Adventure" phrasing in Bandersnatch. Citing a scene in which Stefan's father sees him reading the meta-novel Bandersnatch, and mentions his son's constant "flicking backwards and forwards in" the book, Chooseco's lawsuit says that that "feature — flipping back and forth — is a hallmark of a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BOOK."
When Stefan explains the book to his father, he says, "[I]t's a 'Choose Your Own Adventure Book.'" The lawsuit against Netflix claims that, if Netflix creates subtitles and closed captions in-house, then "Its use of quotes and capital letters in the subtitles [in this scene] is further evidence of Netflix's knowing and willful use of Chooseco's trademark."
The CYOA publisher adds that the "disturbing and violent imagery" of Bandersnatch "tarnishes Chooseco's famous trademark."
Chooseco has sued to protect its Choose Your Own Adventure trademark before in a case involving a slogan in a campaign for Jeeps. It was later settled. Whether Chooseco will have the same fortune in this case remains to be seen.