How the ‘Black Mirror’ Netflix Lawsuit Connects Directly to Viewers

Lawsuits involving entertainment studios run the gamut from inappropriate behavior behind the scenes, to consumer rights, to questions about stolen ideas or images.

These cases don’t always make it to court, but when they pinpoint well-known companies as the offenders, people tend to pay attention. Netflix is at the center of one suit about Black Mirror and its clever Bandersnatch creation.

Netflix 'Black Mirror: Bandersnatch' display
Netflix ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ display | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for BAFTA LA

Book publisher accuses Netflix of trademark violation

Do you remember when Bandersnatch came out on Netflix and it was promoted as having a “choose your own adventure” vibe? Well, the people behind the Choose Your Own Adventure book series are not ok with that, and a judge just granted permission for their lawsuit to move forward.

In January 2019, Chooseco LLC filed the suit in Vermont federal court accusing Netflix of trademark infringement for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, according to Forbes.

The company alleged the streamer attempted to make money off of the ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia connected to the brand and did so without permission.

Chooseco also accused Netflix of diluting consumers’ goodwill by linking Choose Your Own Adventure with the “upsetting” images found in Bandersnatch. By March 2019, Netflix filed a motion to dismiss the case, and in February 2020, Judge William Sessions refused to do so.

Chooseco also alleges that Netflix collected customer data

To further argue its case, Chooseco asserts that Netflix went ahead with Bandersnatch even though licensing discussions ceased between the two parties.

The book company alleges Netflix used the interactive aspect of the Bandersnatch story with ill marketing intentions to “collect behavioral data” from consumers as they chose outcomes.

Further, Chooseco believes Netflix misled viewers with the concept of “choose your own adventure.” Fox News reports that Judge Sessions decided Netflix will have to prove Bandersnatch’s premise is not confusing to its customers:

“Because the Court finds that Chooseco has met its pleading requirements regarding these issues, Chooseco is entitled to proceed with its unfair competition claim.”

What Netflix has to say

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the streamer filed more paperwork this week to dismiss the case, with one of its claims hinging on “choose your own adventure” as a generic term.

The media giant also admitted it was in talks with Chooseco about licensing, but said it was unrelated to the Bandersnatch project.

Per the outlet, Netflix’s attorney, Seth Berlin, wrote in his argument that the concept in Bandersnatch is original in its particular format:

“Unlike most works in the genre of interactive storytelling, in Bandersnatch, the viewer does not step into the shoes of the protagonist whose fate the viewer purportedly controls. Rather, in Bandersnatch, the viewer controls the main character as an outside force.

When Butler ultimately becomes cognizant that his choices are being controlled, viewers are given the option to tell him he is being manipulated by a person from the future using a computer service called ‘Netflix.”

Currently, Netflix wants Chooseco’s trademark to be canceled and plans to use a First Amendment argument claiming fair use to support its cause. But they will also have to prove that the public wasn’t lured into watching the series by making a connection with the Choose Your Own Adventure books.